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Full text of "Studies in nature and literature"

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RIVERSIDE ESSAYS 

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EDITED BY 

ADA L. F. SNELL 

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF ENGLISH 
MOUNT HOLYOKE COLLEGE 



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etJiteti h? a*a 1. jL Smell 



THE AMERICAN MIND AND AMERICAN IDEALISM. By 
Bliss Perry. 35 cents. 

UNIVERSITY SUBJECTS. By John Henry Newman. 35 
cents. 

STUDIES IN NATURE AND LITERATURE. By John Bur- 
roughs. 35 cents. 

PROMOTING GOOD CITIZENSHIP. By James Bryce. 35 
cents 

Prices are net, postpaid 
Other titles in preparation 

HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY 
Boston New York Chicago 



Wqt Kitiersiue ^Literature Series 



STUDIES IN NATURE 
AND LITERATURE 

BY 

JOHN BURROUGHS 




BOSTON NEW YORK CHICAGO 

HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY 
(ffibe fiitoer#&e pre^ Cambridge 



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COPYRIGHT, 1S75, 1SS9, 1S94, 1902, 1903, AND I90S, 
BY JOHN BURROUGHS 

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 



R. L. S. 226 



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CAMBRIDGE . MASSACHUSETTS 
U . S . A 



PREFACE 

MR. BURROUGHS has written of himself in 
an "Egotistical Chapter" so revealingly and 
withal so concisely that it makes the most fit- 
ting introduction to this little volume of selections 
from the works of our greatest literary naturalist. 
The choosing of material from fifteen by no means 
slender volumes has been a difficult task; how many 
favorites one would like to include, such as "The 
Hunt for the Nightingale," "The Apple," "The 
Grist of the Gods" — but one must not make a 
catalogue in a preface! It is hoped, however, that 
the material which has been selected and is here 
presented may serve to increase the interest of stu- 
dents in the writings of Mr. Burroughs, and that it 
may encourage them to read and express on their 
own account the world which he has made known 
to us as a place abounding in miracles. 

Ada L. F. Snell. 



CONTENTS 

An Egotistical Chapter 1 

The Exhilarations of the Road 19 

Bird Life in an Old Apple-Tree 38 

Bird Courtship 45 

The Snow- Walkers 56 

Among the Wild Flowers 62 

The Divine Soil 69 

Style and the Man 82 

SUGGESTIVENESS 101 



AN EGOTISTICAL CHAPTER 1 

A FEW years ago the editor of a popular maga- 
zine inveigled a good many people, myself 
among the number, into writing about themselves 
and their experiences in life. None of us, I imagine, 
needed very much persuading, for as a rule there 
is no subject which a man or a woman is more ready 
or willing to talk about than himself or herself. 
One's ailments are always a favorite subject; next 
to that, one's good luck or ill luck in his last under- 
taking; then one's experiences, one's likes and dis- 
likes; and lastly, self -analysis and criticism. And 
it has been said that a man "is never so sure to 
please as when he writes of himself with good faith, 
and without affectation." Ay, there's the rub ; to 
write of one's self without affectation ! A false note 
of this kind is fatal to the interest and value of the 
criticism. 

In a certain sense, a man of the literary or artistic 
temperament never portrays or writes of anything 
but himself ; that is, he gives us things as seen 
through the intimate personal medium which he 
himself is. All things reflect his hue and quality. 

1 From Indoor Studies. 



2 AN EGOTISTICAL CHAPTER 

This is the bane of science, but it is the life of 
literature. I have probably unwittingly written 
myself in my books more fully and frankly than I 
ever can by any direct confession and criticism ; but 
the latter may throw some side light at least, and, 
on looking over what I wrote for the editor above 
referred to, I find that portions of it possess a cer- 
tain interest and value to myself, and therefore I 
trust may not seem entirely amiss to my reader. 

If a man is not born into the environment best 
suited to him, he, as a rule, casts about him until 
he finds such environment. My own surroundings 
and connections have been mainly of the unliterary 
kind. I was born of and among people who neither 
read books nor cared for them, and my closest asso- 
ciations since have been with those whose minds 
have been alien to literature and art. My unlit- 
erary environment has doubtless been best suited 
to me. Probably what little freshness and primal 
sweetness my books contain is owing to this circum- 
stance. Constant intercourse with bookish men 
and literary circles I think would have dwarfed or 
killed my literary faculty. This perpetual rubbing 
of heads together, as in the literary clubs, seems to 
result in literary sterility. In my own case, at least, 
what I most needed was what I had, — a few books 
and plenty of real things. I never had any apti- 
tude for scholarly attainments; my verbal or artifi- 
cial memory, so to speak, was poor, but my mind 



AN EGOTISTICAL CHAPTER 3 

always had a certain magnetic or adhesive quality 
for things that were proper to it and that belonged 
to me. 

I early took pleasure in trying to express myself 
on paper, probably in my sixteenth or seventeenth 
year. In my reading I was attracted by everything 
of the essay kind. In the libraries and bookstores 
I was on the lookout for books of essays. And I 
wanted the essay to start, not in a casual and incon- 
sequential way, but the first sentence must be a 
formal enunciation of a principle. I bought the 
whole of Dr. Johnson's works at a second-hand 
bookstore in New York, because, on looking into 
them, I found his essays appeared to be of solid 
essay-stuff from beginning to end. I passed by 
Montaigne's Essays at the same time, because they 
had a personal and gossipy look. Almost my first 
literary attempts were moral reflections, somewhat 
in the Johnsonian style. I lived on the u Ram- 
bler " and the " Idler " all one year, and tried to pro- 
duce something of my own in similar form. As a 
youth I was a philosopher ; as a young man I was 
an Emersonian; as a middle-aged man I am a liter- 
ary naturalist; but always have I been an essayist. 

It was while I was at school, in my nineteenth 
year, that I saw my first author; and I distinctly 
remember with what emotion I gazed upon him, 
and followed him in the twilight, keeping on the 
other side of the street. He was of little account, — 



4 AN EGOTISTICAL CHAPTER 

a man who had failed as a lawyer, and then had 
written a history of Poland, which I have never 
heard of since that time ; but to me he was the 
embodiment of the august spirit of authorship, and 
I looked upon him with more reverence and enthu- 
siasm than I had ever looked before upon any man. 
I do not think I could have approached and spoken 
to him on any consideration. I cannot at this date 
divine why I should have stood in such worshipful 
fear and awe of this obscure individual, but I sup- 
pose it was the instinctive tribute of a timid and 
imaginative youth to a power which he was just 
beginning vaguely to see, — the power of letters. 

It was at about this time that I first saw my own 
thoughts in print, — a communication of some kind 
to a little country paper published in an adjoining 
town. In my twenty-second or twenty-third year, 
I began to send rude and crude essays to the maga- 
zines and to certain New York weekly papers, but 
they came back again pretty promptly. I wrote on 
such subjects as "Revolutions," "A Man and his 
Times," " Genius," " Individuality." At this period 
of my life I was much indebted to Whipple, whose 
style, as it appears in his earlier essays and in the 
thin volume of lectures published by Ticknor, Reed 
& Fields about 1853, is, in my judgment, much 
better than in his later writings. It was never a 
good style, not at all magnetic or penetrating, but 
it was clear and direct, and, to my mind at that 



AN EGOTISTICAL CHAPTER 5 

period, stimulating. Higginson had just begun to 
publish his polished essays in the "Atlantic," and 
I found much help in them also. They were a 
little cold, but they had the quality which belongs 
to the work of a man who looks upon literature 
as a fine art. My mind had already begun to turn 
to outdoor themes, and Higginson gave me a good 
send-off in this direction. But the master-enchanter 
of this period of my life and of many following 
years was Emerson. While at school, in my nine- 
teenth year, in my search for essays I had carried 
to my room one volume of his, but I could do 
nothing with it. What, indeed, could a Johnso- 
nian youth make of Emerson ? A year or so later 
I again opened one of his books in a Chicago book- 
store, and was so taken with the first taste of it that 
I then and there purchased the three volumes, — the 
" Essays " and the " Miscellanies." All that sum- 
mer I fed upon them and steeped myself in them: 
so that when, a year or two afterwards, I wrote an 
essay on "Expression" and sent it to the "Atlan- 
tic," it was so Emersonian that the editor thought 
some one was trying to palm off on him an early 
essay of Emerson's which he had not seen. Satis- 
fying himself that Emerson had published no such 
paper, he printed it in the November number of 
1860. It had not much merit. I remember this 
sentence, which may contain some truth aptly put: 
" Dr. Johnson's periods act like a lever of the third 



6 AN EGOTISTICAL CHAPTER 

kind : the power applied always exceeds the weight 
raised." 

It was mainly to break the spell of Emerson's 
influence and to get upon ground of my own that I 
took to writing upon outdoor themes. I wrote half 
a dozen or more sketches upon all sorts of open-air 
subjects, which were published in the New York 
"Leader." The woods, the soil, the waters, helped 
to draw out the pungent Emersonian flavor and 
restore me to my proper atmosphere. But to this 
day I am aware that a suggestion of Emerson's 
manner often crops out in my writings. His mind 
was the firmer, harder substance, and was bound 
to leave its mark upon my own. But, in any case, 
my debt to him is great. He helped me to better 
literary expression, he quickened my perception of 
the beautiful, he stimulated and fertilized my reli- 
gious nature. Unless one is naturally more or less 
both of a religious and of a poetic turn, the writings 
of such men as Emerson and Carlyle are mainly lost 
upon him. Two thirds of the force of these writers, 
at least, is directed into these channels. It is the 
quality of their genius, rather than the scope and 
push of their minds, that endears them to us. They 
quicken the conscience and stimulate the character 
as well as correct the taste. They are not the spokes- 
men of science or of the reason, but of the soul. 

About this period I fell in with Thoreau's " Wal- 
den," but I am not conscious of any great debt to 



AN EGOTISTICAL CHAPTER 7 

Thoreau : I had begun to write upon outdoor themes 
before his books fell into my hands, but he undoubt- 
edly helped confirm me in my own direction. He 
was the intellectual child of Emerson, but added 
a certain crispness and pungency, as of wild roots 
and herbs, to the urbane philosophy of his great 
neighbor. But Thoreau had one trait which I 
always envied him, namely, his indifference to 
human beings. He seems to have been as insensible 
to people as he was open and hospitable to nature. 
It probably gave him more pleasure to open his 
door to a woodchuck than to a man. 

Let me confess that I am too conscious of per- 
sons, — feel them too much, defer to them too 
much, and try too hard to adapt myself to them. 
Emerson says, w A great man is coming to dine with 
me: I do not wish to please him, I wish that he 
should wish to please me." I should be sure to 
overdo the matter in trying to please the great man : 
more than that, his presence would probably take 
away my appetite for my dinner. 

In speaking of the men who have influenced me, 
or to whom I owe the greatest debt, let me finish 
the list here. I was not born out of time, but in 
good time. The men I seemed to need most were 
nearly all my contemporaries; the ideas and influ- 
ences which address themselves to me the most 
directly and forcibly have been abundantly current 
in my time. Hence I owe, or seem to owe, more 



8 AN EGOTISTICAL CHAPTER 

to contemporary authors than to the men of the 
past. I have lived in the present time, in the pre- 
sent hour, and have invested myself in the objects 
nearest at hand. Besides the writers I have men- 
tioned, I am conscious of owing a debt to Whitman, 
Ruskin, Arnold, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Ten- 
nyson. To Whitman I owe a certain liberalizing 
influence, as well as a lesson in patriotism which 
I could have got in the same measure from no 
other source. Whitman opens the doors, and opens 
them wide. He pours a flood of human sympathy 
which sets the whole world afloat. He is a great 
humanizing power. There is no other personality 
in literature that gives me such a sense of breadth 
and magnitude in the purely human and personal 
qualities. His poems are dominated by a sense 
of a living, breathing man as no other poems are. 
This would not recommend them to some read- 
ers, but it recommends them to such as I, who 
value in books perennial human qualities above all 
things. To put a great personality in poetry is to 
establish a living fountain of power, where the jaded 
and exhausted race can refresh and renew itself. 

To a man in many ways the opposite of Whit- 
man, who stands for an entirely different, almost 
antagonistic, order of ideas, — to wit, Matthew 
Arnold, — I am indebted for a lesson in clear think- 
ing and clean expression such as I have got from 
no other. Arnold's style is probably the most lucid, 



AN EGOTISTICAL CHAPTER 9 

the least embarrassed by anything false or foreign, 
of that of any writer living. His page is as clear as 
science and as vital and flexible as poetry. Indeed, 
he affords a notable instance of the cool, impartial 
scientific spirit wedded to, or working through, the 
finest poetic delicacy and sensibility. 

I have not been deeply touched or moved by 
any English poet of this century save Wordsworth. 
Nearly all other poetry of nature is tame and insin- 
cere compared with his. But my poetic sympathies 
are probably pretty narrow. I cannot, for instance, 
read Robert Browning, except here and there a 
short poem. The sheer mechanical effort of read- 
ing him, of leaping and dodging and turning sharp 
corners to overtake his meaning, is too much for 
me. It makes my mental bones ache. It is not 
that he is so subtile and profound, for he is less in 
both these respects than Shakespeare, but that he 
is so abrupt and elliptical and plays such fantastic 
tricks with syntax. His verse is like a springless 
wagon on a rough road. He is full of bounce and 
vigor, but it is of the kind that bruises the flesh 
and makes one bite his tongue. Swinburne has lilt 
and flow enough, certainly, and yet I cannot read 
him. He sickens me from the opposite cause : I am 
adrift in a sea of melodious words, with never an 
idea to cling to. There is to me something grew- 
some and uncanny about Swinburne's poetry, like 
the clammy and rapidly-growing fungi in nature. 



10 AN EGOTISTICAL CHAPTER 

It is not health, but disease; it is not inspiration, 
but a mortal flux. The u Saturday Review," in 
noticing my last volume, "Signs and Seasons," 
intimates that I might have found better specimens 
of sea-poetry to adorn the chapter called "A Salt 
Breeze " in Mr. Swinburne than those I have given, 
and quotes the following stanzas from him as 
proof: — 

"Hardly we saw the high moon hanging, 
Heard hardly through the windy night, 
Far waters ringing, low reefs clanging, 
Under wan skies and waste white light. 

"With chafe and change of surges chiming, 
The clashing channels rocked and rang 
Large music, wave to wild wave timing, 
And all the choral waters sang." 

Words, words, words ! and all struck with the lep- 
rosy of alliteration. Such poetry would turn my 
blood to water. " Wan skies and waste white light," 
— are there ever any other skies or any other lights 
in Swinburne ? 

But this last is an ill wind which I fear can blow 
no good to any one. I have lived long enough to 
know that my own private likes and dislikes do not 
always turn out to be the decrees of the Eternal. 
Some writers confirm one and brace him where he 
stands ; others give him a lift forward. I am not 
aware that more than two American writers have 



AN EGOTISTICAL CHAPTER 11 

been of the latter service to me, — Emerson and 
Whitman. Such a spirit as Bryant is confirmatory. 
I may say the same of Whittier and Longfellow. 
I owe to these men solace and encouragement, but 
no new territory. 

Still, the influences that shape one's life are often 
so subtile and remote, and of such small beginning, 
that it will not do to be too positive about these 
matters. At any rate, self-analysis is a sort of back- 
handed work, and one is lucky if he comes at all 
near the truth. 

As such a paper must of necessity be egotistical, 
let me not flinch in any part of my task on that 
account. 

What little merit my style has is the result of 
much study and discipline. I have taught myself 
always to get down to the quick of my mind at 
once, and not fumble about amid the husks at the 
surface. Unless one can give the sense of vitality 
in his pages, no mere verbal brightness or scholarly 
attainments will save him. In the best writing, 
every sentence is filled with the writer's living, 
breathing quality, just as in the perfected honey- 
comb every cell is filled with honey. But how 
much empty comb there is even in the best books! 
I wish to give an account of a bird, or a flower, or 
of any open-air scene or incident. My whole effort 
is to see the thing just as it was. I ask myself, 
u Exactly how did this thing strike my mind ? What 



12 AN EGOTISTICAL CHAPTER 

was prominent ? What was subordinated ? I have 
been accused of romancing at times. But it is not 
true. I set down the thing exactly as it fell out. 
People say, " I do not see what you do when I take 
a walk." But for the most part they do, but the 
fact as it lies there in nature is crude and raw: it 
needs to be brought out, to be passed through the 
heart and mind and presented in appropriate words. 
This humanizes it and gives it an added charm and 
significance. This, I take it, is what is meant by 
idealizing and interpreting nature. We do not add 
to or falsely color the facts: we disentangle them, 
and invest them with the magic of written words. 

To give anything like vitality to one's style, one 
must divest one's self of any false or accidental 
or factitious mood or feeling, and get down to his 
real self, and speak as directly and sincerely as he 
does about his daily business or affairs, and with as 
little affectation. One may write from the outside 
of his mind, as it were, write and write, glibly and 
learnedly, and make no impression; but when one 
speaks from real insight and conviction of his own, 
men are always glad to hear him, whether they 
agree with him or not. So much writing or speak- 
ing is like mere machine-work, as if you turned a 
crank and the piece or discourse came out. It is 
not the man's real mind, his real experience. This 
he does not know how to get at ; it has no con- 
nection with his speaking or writing faculty. How 



AN EGOTISTICAL CHAPTER 13 

rare are real poems, — poems that spring from real 
feeling, a real throb of emotion, and not from a 
mere surface-itching of the mind for literary expres- 
sion! The world is full of "rhyming parasites," 
as Milton called them. The great mass of the poetry 
of any age is purely artificial, and has no root in 
real things. It is a kind of masquerading. The 
stock poetic forms are masks behind which the 
poetlings hide their real poverty of thought and 
feeling. In prose one has no such factitious aids; 
here he must stand upon his own merits; he has 
not the cloak of Milton or Tennyson, or Spenser, 
to hide in. 

It is, of course, the young writer who oftenest 
fails to speak his real mind, or to speak from any 
proper basis of insight and conviction. He is car- 
ried away by a fancy, a love of novelty, or an affec- 
tation of originality. The strange things, the novel 
things, are seldom true. Look for truth under your 
feet. To be original, Carlyle said, is to be sincere. 
When one is young, how many discoveries he 
makes, — real mare's-eggs, which by and by turn 
out to be nothing but field-pumpkins ! 

Men who, like myself, are deficient in self-asser- 
tion, or whose personalities are flexible and yield- 
ing, make a poor show in politics or business, but 
in certain other fields these defects have their 
advantages. In action, Renan says, one is weak 
by his best qualities, — such, I suppose, as tender- 



14 AN EGOTISTICAL CHAPTER 

ness, sympathy, religiousness, — and strong by 
his poorer, or at least his less attractive, qualities. 
But in letters the reverse is probably true. How 
many of us owe our success in this field to qualities 
which in a measure disqualified us for an active 
career! A late writer upon Carlyle seeks to demon- 
strate that the "open secret of his life" was his 
desire to take a hand in the actual affairs of English 
politics; but it is quite certain that the traits and 
gifts which made him such a power in literature 
— namely, his tremendous imagination and his 
burdened prophetic conscience — would have stood 
in his way in dealing with the coarse affairs of this 
world. 

In my own case, what hinders me with the world 
helps me with impersonal nature. I do not stand 
in my own light. My will, my personality, offer 
little resistance : they let the shy, delicate influences 
pass. I can surrender myself to nature without 
effort, but am more or less restrained and self-con- 
scious in the presence of my fellows. Bird and 
beast take to me, and I to them. I can look in the 
eye of an ugly dog and win him, but with an ugly 
man I have less success. 

I have unmistakably the feminine idiosyncrasy. 
Perhaps this is the reason that my best and most 
enthusiastic readers appear to be women. In the 
genesis of all my books, feeling goes a long way 
before intellection. What I feel I can express, 



AN EGOTISTICAL CHAPTER 15 

and only what I feel. If I had run after the birds 
only to write about them, I never should have writ- 
ten anything that any one would have cared to read. 
I must write from sympathy and love, or not at 
all: I have in no sort of measure the gift of the 
ready writer who can turn his pen to all sorts of 
themes ; or the dramatic, creative gift of the great 
poets, which enables them to get out of themselves 
and to present vividly and powerfully things entirely 
beyond the circle of their own lives and experiences. 
I go to the woods to enjoy myself, and not to report 
them ; and if I succeed, the expedition may by 
and by bear fruit at my pen. When a writer of 
my limited range begins to "make believe," or to 
go outside of his experience, he betrays himself at 
once. My success, such as it is, has been in put- 
ting my own personal feelings and attractions into 
subjects of universal interest. I have loved Nature 
no more than thousands upon thousands of others 
have, but my aim has been not to tell that love to 
my reader, but to tell it to the trees and the birds 
and to let them tell him. I think we all like this 
indirect way the best. It will not do in literature 
to compliment Nature and make love to her by 
open profession and declaration : you must show 
your love by your deeds or your spirit, and by the 
sincerity of your service to her. 

For my part, I never can interview Nature in the 
reporter fashion : I must camp and tramp with her 



16 AN EGOTISTICAL CHAPTER 

to get any good, and what I get I absorb through 
my emotions rather than consciously gather through 
my intellect. Hence the act of composition with 
me is a kind of self-exploration to see what hidden 
stores my mind holds. If I write upon a favorite 
author, for instance, I do not give my reader some- 
thing which lay clearly defined in my mind when I 
began to write: I give him what I find, after closest 
scrutiny, in the subconscious regions, — a result as 
unknown to me as to him when I began to write. 
The same with outdoor subjects. I come gradually 
to have a feeling that I want to write upon a given 
theme, — rain, for instance, or snow, — but what I 
may have to say upon it is as vague as the back- 
ground of one of Millet's pictures ; my hope is 
entirely in the feeling or attraction which draws 
my mind that way ; the subject is congenial, it 
sticks to me; whenever it recurs to me, it awakens 
as it were a warm personal response. 

Perhaps this is the experience of all other writers : 
their subjects find them, or bring the key to their 
hidden stores. Great poets, like Milton, however, 
cast about them and deliberately choose a theme: 
they are not hampered by their sympathies, nor 
are they prisoners of their own personalities, like 
writers who depend upon this pack of unconscious 
impressions at their back. An experience must 
lie in my mind a certain time before I can put it 
on paper, — say from three to six months. If 



AN EGOTISTICAL CHAPTER 17 

there is anything in it, it will ripen and mellow 
in that time. I rarely take any notes, and I have 
a very poor memory, but rely upon the affinity of 
my mind for a certain order of truths or observa- 
tions. What is mine will stick to me, and what is 
not will drop off. When I returned from England 
after a three months' visit in the summer of 1882, 
I was conscious of having brought back with me 
a few observations that I might expand into two 
or three short essays. But when I began to open 
my pack, the contents grew so upon my hands 
that it reached many times the measure I at first 
proposed. Indeed, when I look back over my seven 
volumes, I wonder where they have all come from. 
I am like a boy who at the close of the day looks 
over his string of fish curiously, not one of which 
did he know of in the morning, and every one of 
which came to his hand from depths beyond his 
ken by luck and skill in fishing. I have often caught 
my fish when I least expected to, and as often 
my most determined efforts have been entirely 
unavailing. 

It is a wise injunction, " Know thyself," but 
how hard to fulfil ! This unconscious region in 
one, this unconscious setting of the currents of his 
life in certain directions, — how hard to know 
that ! The influences of his family, his race, his 
times, his environment, are all deeper than the 
plummet of his self-knowledge can reach. Yet 



18 AN EGOTISTICAL CHAPTER 

how we admire the ready man, the man who always 
has complete control of his resources, who can speak 
the right word instantly! My own wit is always 
belated. After the crisis is past, the right word or 
the right sentence is pretty sure to appear and mock 
me by its tardiness. 

There is, no doubt, a great difference in men with 
reference to this knowledge and command of their 
own resources. Some writers seem to me to be like 
those military states wherein every man is num- 
bered, drilled, and equipped, and ready for instant 
service : the whole male population is a standing 
army. Then there are men of another type who 
have no standing a*my. They are absorbed in mere 
living, and, when the occasion requires, they have 
to recruit their ideas slowly from the vague, uncer- 
tain masses in the background. Hence they never 
cut a brilliant figure upon paper, though they may 
be capable of doing real heartfelt work. 



THE EXHILARATIONS OF THE ROAD 1 

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road. 

Walt Whitman. 

OCCASIONALLY on the sidewalk, amid the 
dapper, swiftly moving, high-heeled boots and 
gaiters, I catch a glimpse of the naked human foot. 
Nimbly it scuffs along, the toes spread, the sides 
flatten, the heel protrudes; it grasps the curbing, 
or bends to the form of the uneven surfaces, — a 
thing sensuous and alive, that seems to take cogni- 
zance of whatever it touches or passes. How primi- 
tive and uncivil it looks in such company, — a real 
barbarian in the parlor! We are so unused to the 
human anatomy, to simple, unadorned nature, that 
it looks a little repulsive; but it is beautiful for all 
that. Though it be a black foot and an unwashed 
foot, it shall be exalted. It is a thing of life amid 
leather, a free spirit amid cramped, a wild bird 
amid caged, an athlete amid consumptives. It is 
the symbol of my order, the Order of Walkers. 
That unhampered, vitally playing piece of anatomy 
is the type of the pedestrian, man returned to first 

1 From Winter Sunshine. 



20 THE EXHILARATIONS OF THE ROAD 

principles, in direct contact and intercourse with 
the earth and the elements, his faculties unsheathed, 
his mind plastic, his body toughened, his heart 
light, his soul dilated; while those cramped and 
distorted members in the calf and kid are the unfor- 
tunate wretches doomed to carriages and cushions. 

I am not going to advocate the disuse of boots 
and shoes, or the abandoning of the improved modes 
of travel ; but I am going to brag as lustily as I can 
on behalf of the pedestrian, and show how all the 
shining angels second and accompany the man who 
goes afoot, while all the dark spirits are ever look- 
ing out for a chance to ride. 

When I see the discomforts that able-bodied 
American men will put up with rather than go a 
mile or half a mile on foot, the abuses they will 
tolerate and encourage, crowding the street car on 
a little fall in the temperature or the appearance of 
an inch or two of snow, packing up to overflowing, 
dangling to the straps, treading on each other's 
toes, breathing each other's breaths, crushing the 
women and children, hanging by tooth and nail to 
a square inch of the platform, imperiling their limbs 
and killing the horses, — I think the commonest 
tramp in the street has good reason to felicitate 
himself on his rare privilege of going afoot. Indeed, 
a race that neglects or despises this primitive gift, 
that fears the touch of the soil, that has no foot- 
paths, no community of ownership in the land 



THE EXHILARATIONS OF THE ROAD 21 

which they imply, that warns off the walker as a tres- 
passer, that knows no way but the highway, the 
carriage-way, that forgets the stile, the foot-bridge, 
that even ignores the rights of the pedestrian in the 
public road, providing no escape for him but in the 
ditch or up the bank, is in a fair way to far more 
serious degeneracy. 

Shakespeare makes the chief qualification of the 
walker a merry heart : — 

" Jog on, jog on, the footpath way, 
And merrily hent the stile-a; 
A merry heart goes all the day, 
Your sad tires in a mile-a. ' ' 

The human body is a steed that goes freest and 
longest under a light rider, and the lightest of all 
riders is a cheerful heart. Your sad, or morose, or 
embittered, or preoccupied heart settles heavily into 
the saddle, and the poor beast, the body, breaks 
down the first mile. Indeed, the heaviest thing in 
the world is a heavy heart. Next to that, the most 
burdensome to the walker is a heart not in perfect 
sympathy and accord with the body, — a reluctant 
or unwilling heart. The horse and rider must not 
only both be willing to go the same way, but the 
rider must lead the way and infuse his own light- 
ness and eagerness into the steed. Herein is no 
doubt our trouble, and one reason of the decay of 
the noble art in this country. We are unwilling 



22 THE EXHILARATIONS OF THE ROAD 

walkers. We are not innocent and simple-hearted 
enough to enjoy a walk. We have fallen from that 
state of grace which capacity to enjoy a walk im- 
plies. It cannot be said that as a people we are so 
positively sad, or morose, or melancholic, as that we 
are vacant of that sportiveness and surplusage of 
animal spirits that characterized our ancestors, and 
that springs from full and harmonious life, — a 
sound heart in accord with a sound body. A man 
must invest himself near at hand and in common 
things, and be content with a steady and moderate 
return, if he would know the blessedness of a cheer- 
ful heart and the sweetness of a walk over the round 
earth. This is a lesson the American has yet to 
learn, — capability of amusement on a low key. He 
expects rapid and extraordinary returns. He would 
make the very elemental laws pay usury. He has 
nothing to invest in a walk; it is too slow, too cheap. 
We crave the astonishing, the exciting, the far away, 
and do not know the highways of the gods when we 
see them, — always a sign of the decay of the faith 
and simplicity of man. 

If I say to my neighbor, " Come with me, I have 
great wonders to show you," he pricks up his ears 
and comes forthwith; but when I take him on the 
hills under the full blaze of the sun, or along the 
country road, our footsteps lighted by the moon and 
stars, and say to him, " Behold, these are the won- 
ders, these are the circuits of the gods, this we now 



THE EXHILARATIONS OF THE ROAD 23 

tread is a morning star," he feels defrauded, and as 
if I had played him a trick. And yet nothing less 
than dilatation and enthusiasm like this is the badge 
of the master walker. 

If we are not sad, we are careworn, hurried, dis- 
contented, mortgaging the present for the promise 
of the future. If we take a walk, it is as we take a 
prescription, with about the same relish and with 
about the same purpose; and the more the fatigue, 
the greater our faith in the virtue of the medicine. 

Of those gleesome saunters over the hills in spring, 
or those sallies of the body in winter, those excur- 
sions into space when the foot strikes fire at every 
step, when the air tastes like a new and finer mix- 
ture, when we accumulate force and gladness as we 
go along, when the sight of objects by the roadside 
and of the fields and woods pleases more than pic- 
tures or than all the art in the world, — those ten 
or twelve mile dashes that are but the wit and efflu- 
ence of the corporeal powers, — of such diversion 
and open road entertainment, I say, most of us 
know very little. 

I notice with astonishment that at our fashionable 
watering-places nobody walks ; that, of all those vast 
crowds of health-seekers and lovers of country air, 
you can never catch one in the fields or woods, or 
guilty of trudging along the country road with dust 
on his shoes and sun-tan on his hands and face. 
The sole amusement seems to be to eat and dress 



24 THE EXHILARATIONS OF THE ROAD 

and sit about the hotels and glare at each other. 
The men look bored, the women look tired, and all 
seem to sigh, "O Lord! what shall we do to be 
happy and not be vulgar?" Quite different from 
our British cousins across the water, who have 
plenty of amusement and hilarity, spending most 
of the time at their watering-places in the open air, 
strolling, picnicking, boating, climbing, briskly 
walking, apparently with little fear of sun-tan or of 
compromising their "gentility." 

It is indeed astonishing with what ease and hilar- 
ity the English walk. To an American it seems a 
kind of infatuation. When Diekens was in this 
country, I imagine the aspirants to the honor of a 
walk with him were not numerous. In a pedestrian 
tour of England by an American, I read that, " after 
breakfast with the Independent minister, he walked 
with us for six miles out of town upon our road. 
Three little boys and girls, the youngest six years 
old, also accompanied us. They were romping and 
rambling about all the while, and their morning 
walk must have been as much as fifteen miles ; but 
they thought nothing of it, and when we parted 
were apparently as fresh as when they started, and 
very loath to return." 

I fear, also, the American is becoming disquali- 
fied for the manly art of walking by a falling off in 
the size of his foot. He cherishes and cultivates 
this part of his anatomy, and apparently thinks his 



THE EXHILARATIONS OF THE ROAD 25 

taste and good breeding are to be inferred from its 
diminutive size. A small, trim foot, well booted 
or gaitered, is the national vanity. How we stare 
at the big feet of foreigners, and wonder what may 
be the price of leather in those countries, and where 
all the aristocratic blood is, that these plebeian ex- 
tremities so predominate ! If we were admitted to 
the confidences of the shoemaker to Her Majesty or 
to His Royal Highness, no doubt we should modify 
our views upon this latter point, for a truly large 
and royal nature is never stunted in the extremi- 
ties ; a little foot never yet supported a great char- 
acter. 

It is said that Englishmen, when they first come 
to this country, are for some time under the impres- 
sion that American women all have deformed feet, 
they are so coy of them and so studiously careful 
to keep them hid. That there is an astonishing dif- 
ference between the women of the two countries 
in this respect, every traveler can testify; and that 
there is a difference equally astonishing between 
the pedestrian habits and capabilities of the rival 
sisters, is also certain. 

The English pedestrian, no doubt, has the advan- 
tage of us in the matter of climate ; for, notwith- 
standing the traditional gloom and moroseness of 
English skies, they have in that country none of 
those relaxing, sinking, enervating days, of which 
we have so many here, and which seem especially 



26 THE EXHILARATIONS OF THE ROAD 

trying to the female constitution, — days which 
withdraw all support from the back and loins, and 
render walking of all things burdensome. Theirs is 
a climate of which it has been said that " it invites 
men abroad more days in the year and more hours 
in the day than that of any other country." 

Then their land is threaded with paths which 
invite the walker, and which are scarcely less im- 
portant than the highways. I heard of a surly- 
nobleman near London who took it into his head 
to close a footpath that passed through his estate 
near his house, and open another a little farther 
off. The pedestrians objected; the matter got into 
the courts, and after protracted litigation the aris- 
tocrat was beaten. The path could not be closed or 
moved. The memory of man ran not to the time 
when there was not a footpath there, and every 
pedestrian should have the right of way there still. 

I remember the pleasure I had in the path that 
connects Stratford-on-Avon with Shottery, Shake- 
speare's path when he went courting Anne Hatha- 
way. By the king's highway the distance is some 
farther, so there is a well-worn path along the hedge- 
rows and through the meadows and turnip patches. 
The traveler in it has the privilege of crossing the 
railroad track, an unusual privilege in England, and 
one denied to the lord in his carriage, who must 
either go over or under it. (It is a privilege, is it 
not, to be allowed the forbidden, even if it be the 



THE EXHILARATIONS OF THE ROAD 27 

privilege of being run over by the engine?) In 
strolling over the South Downs, too, I was delighted 
to find that where the hill was steepest some bene- 
factor of the order of walkers had made notches in 
the sward, so that the foot could bite the better and 
firmer; the path became a kind of stairway, which 
I have no doubt the plowman respected. 

When you see an English country church with- 
drawn, secluded, out of the reach of wheels, stand- 
ing amid grassy graves and surrounded by noble 
trees, approached by paths and shaded lanes, you 
appreciate more than ever this beautiful habit of 
the people. Only a race that knows how to use its 
feet, and holds footpaths sacred, could put such a 
charm of privacy and humility into such a structure. 
I think I should be tempted to go to church myself 
if I saw all my neighbors starting off across the 
fields or along paths that led to such charmed spots, 
and were sure I should not be jostled or run over by 
the rival chariots of the worshipers at the temple 
doors. I think that is what ails our religion ; humil- 
ity and devoutness of heart leave one when he lays 
by his walking shoes and walking clothes, and sets 
out for church drawn by something. 

Indeed, I think it would be tantamount to an 
astonishing revival of religion if the people would 
all walk to church on Sunday and walk home again. 
Think how the stones would preach to them by the 
wayside ; how their benumbed minds would warm 



28 THE EXHILARATIONS OF THE ROAD 

up beneath the friction of the gravel ; how their 
vain and foolish thoughts, their desponding thoughts, 
their besetting demons of one kind and another, 
would drop behind them, unable to keep up or to 
endure the fresh air! They would walk away from 
their ennui, their worldly cares, their uncharitable- 
ness, their pride of dress ; for these devils always 
want to ride, while the simple virtues are never so 
happy as when on foot. Let us walk by all means; 
but if we will ride, get an ass. 

Then the English claim that they are a more 
hearty and robust people than we are. It is certain 
they are a plainer people, have plainer tastes, dress 
plainer, build plainer, speak plainer, keep closer to 
facts, wear broader shoes and coarser clothes, and 
place a lower estimate on themselves, — all of which 
traits favor pedestrian habits. The English grandee 
is not confined to his carriage; but if the American 
aristocrat leaves his, he is ruined. Oh the weari- 
ness, the emptiness, the plotting, the seeking rest 
and finding none, that go by in the carriages ! while 
your pedestrian is always cheerful, alert, refreshed, 
with his heart in his hand and his hand free to all. 
He looks down upon nobody; he is on the common 
level. His pores are all open, his circulation is ac- 
tive, his digestion good. His heart is not cold, nor 
are his faculties asleep. He is the only real traveler; 
he alone tastes the "gay, fresh sentiment of the 
road." He is not isolated, but is at one with things, 



THE EXHILARATIONS OF THE ROAD 29 

with the farms and the industries on either hand. 
The vital, universal currents play through him. 
He knows the ground is alive; he feels the pulses 
of the wind, and reads the mute language of things. 
His sympathies are all aroused; his senses are con- 
tinually reporting messages to his mind. Wind, 
frost, rain, heat, cold, are something to him. He is 
not merely a spectator of the panorama of nature, 
but a participator in it. He experiences the country 
he passes through, — tastes it, feels it, absorbs it; 
the traveler in his fine carriage sees it merely. This 
gives the fresh charm to that class of books that 
may be called "Views Afoot," and to the narratives 
of hunters, naturalists, exploring parties, etc. The 
walker does not need a large territory. When you 
get into a railway car you want a continent, the 
man in his carriage requires a township ; but a 
walker like Thoreau finds as much and more along 
the shores of Walden Pond. The former, as it were, 
has merely time to glance at the headings of the 
chapters, while the latter need not miss a line, and 
Thoreau reads between the lines. Then the walker 
has the privilege of the fields, the woods, the hills, 
the byways. The apples by the roadside are for him, 
and the berries, and the spring of water, and the 
friendly shelter; and if the weather is cold, he eats 
the frost grapes and the persimmons, or even the 
white-meated turnip, snatched from the field he 
passed through, with incredible relish. 



SO THE EXHILARATIONS OF THE ROAD 

Afoot and in the open road, one has a fair start 
in life at last. There is no hindrance now. Let him 
put his best foot forward. He is on the broadest 
human plane. This is on the level of all the great 
laws and heroic deeds. From this platform he is 
eligible to any good fortune. He was sighing for 
the golden age ; let him walk to it. Every step 
brings him nearer. The youth of the world is but 
a few days' journey distant. Indeed, I know per- 
sons who think they have walked back to that fresh 
aforetime of a single bright Sunday in autumn or 
early spring. Before noon they felt its airs upon 
their cheeks, and by nightfall, on the banks of some 
quiet stream, or along some path in the wood, or on 
some hilltop, aver they have heard the voices and 
felt the wonder and the mystery that so enchanted 
the early races of men. 

I think if I could walk through a country, I 
should not only see many things and have adven- 
tures that I should otherwise miss, but that I should 
come into relations with that country at first hand, 
and with the men and women in it, in a way that 
would afford the deepest satisfaction. Hence I envy 
the good fortune of all walkers, and feel like join- 
ing myself to every tramp that comes along. I am 
jealous of the clergyman I read about the other 
day, who footed it from Edinburgh to London, as 
poor Effie Deans did, carrying her shoes in her hand 
most of the way, and over the ground that rugged 



THE EXHILARATIONS OF THE ROAD 31 

Ben Jonson strode, larking it to Scotland, so long 
ago. I read with longing of the pedestrian feats of 
college youths, so gay and light-hearted, with their 
coarse shoes on their feet and their knapsacks on 
their backs. It would have been a good draught of 
the rugged cup to have walked with Wilson the orni- 
thologist, deserted by his companions, from Niagara 
to Philadelphia through the snows of winter. I 
almost wish that I had been born to the career of a 
German mechanic, that I might have had that de- 
licious adventurous year of wandering over my coun- 
try before I settled down to work. I think how 
much richer and firmer-grained life would be to me 
if I could journey afoot through Florida and Texas, 
or follow the windings of the Platte or the Yellow- 
stone, or stroll through Oregon, or browse for a sea- 
son about Canada. In the bright, inspiring days of 
autumn I only want the time and the companion to 
walk back to the natal spot, the family nest, across 
two States and into the mountains of a third. What 
adventures we would have by the way, what hard 
pulls, what prospects from hills, what spectacles 
we would behold of night and day, what passages 
with dogs, what glances, what peeps into windows, 
what characters we should fall in with, and how 
seasoned and hardy we should arrive at our desti- 
nation ! 

For companion I should want a veteran of the 
war! Those marches put something into him I 



32 THE EXHILARATIONS OF THE ROAD 

like. Even at this distance his mettle is but little 
softened. As soon as he gets warmed up, it all 
comes back to him. He catches your step and away 
you go, a gay, adventurous, half-predatory couple. 
How quickly he falls into the old ways of jest and 
anecdote and song ! You may have known him for 
years without having heard him hum an air, or more 
than casually revert to the subject of his experience 
during the war. You have even questioned and 
cross-questioned him without firing the train you 
wished. But get him out on a vacation tramp, and 
you can walk it all out of him. By the camp-fire at 
night, or swinging along the streams by day, song, 
anecdote, adventure, come to the surface, and you 
wonder how your companion has kept silent so 
long. 

It is another proof of how walking brings out the 
true character of a man. The devil never yet asked 
his victims to take a walk with him. You will not 
be long in finding your companion out. All dis- 
guises will fall away from him. As his pores open 
his character is laid bare. His deepest and most 
private self will come to the top. It matters little 
with whom you ride, so he be not a pickpocket ; for 
both of you will, very likely, settle down closer and 
firmer in your reserve, shaken down like a measure 
of corn by the jolting as the journey proceeds. But 
walking is a more vital copartnership ; the relation 
is a closer and more sympathetic one, and you do 



THE EXHILARATIONS OF THE ROAD S3 

not feel like walking ten paces with a stranger with- 
out speaking to him. 

Hence the fastidiousness of the professional walker 
in choosing or admitting a companion, and hence 
the truth of a remark of Emerson, that you will 
generally fare better to take your dog than to invite 
your neighbor. Your cur-dog is a true pedestrian, 
and your neighbor is very likely a small politician. 
The dog enters thoroughly into the spirit of the 
enterprise ; he is not indifferent or preoccupied ; he 
is constantly sniffing adventure, laps at every spring, 
looks upon every field and wood as a new world to 
be explored, is ever on some fresh trail, knows some- 
thing important will happen a little farther on, gazes 
with the true wonder-seeing eyes, whatever the spot 
or whatever the road finds it good to be there, — in 
short, is just that happy, delicious, excursive vaga- 
bond that touches one at so many points, and whose 
human prototype in a companion robs miles and 
leagues of half their power to fatigue. 

Persons who find themselves spent in a short 
walk to the market or the post-office, or to do a 
little shopping, wonder how it is that their pedes- 
trian friends can compass so many weary miles and 
not fall down from sheer exhaustion; ignorant of 
the fact that the walker is a kind of projectile that 
drops far or near according to the expansive force 
of the motive that set it in motion, and that it is easy 
enough to regulate the charge according to the dis- 



34 THE EXHILARATIONS OF THE ROAD 

tance to be traversed. If I am loaded to carry only 
one mile and am compelled to walk three, I gen- 
erally feel more fatigue than if I had walked six 
under the proper impetus of pread justed resolution. 
In other words, the w T ill or corporeal mainspring, 
whatever it be, is capable of being wound up to 
different degrees of tension, so that one may walk 
all day nearly as easy as half that time, if he is pre- 
pared beforehand. He knows his task, and he 
measures and distributes his powers accordingly. It 
is for this reason that an unknown road is always a 
long road. We cannot cast the mental eye along it 
and see the end from the beginning. We are fight- 
ing in the dark, and cannot take the measure of our 
foe. Every step must be preordained and provided 
for in the mind. Hence also the fact that to van- 
quish one mile in the woods seems equal to com- 
passing three in the open country. The furlongs 
are ambushed, and we magnify them. 

Then, again, how annoying to be told it is only 
five miles to the next place when it is really eight 
or ten! We fall short nearly half the distance, and 
are compelled to urge and roll the spent ball the 
rest of the way. In such a case walking degener- 
ates from a fine art to a mechanic art ; we walk 
merely ; to get over the ground becomes the one 
serious and engrossing thought; whereas success in 
walking is not to let your right foot know what 
your left foot doeth. Your heart must furnish such 



THE EXHILARATIONS OF THE ROAD 35 

music that in keeping time to it your feet will carry 
you around the globe without knowing it. The 
walker I would describe takes no note of distance; 
his walk is a sally, a bonmot, an unspoken jeu 
d 9 esprit ; the ground is his butt, his provocation; 
it furnishes him the resistance his body craves ; he 
rebounds upon it, he glances off and returns again, 
and uses it gayly as his tool. 

I do not think I exaggerate the importance or 
the charms of pedestrianism, or our need as a people 
to cultivate the art. I think it would tend to soften 
the national manners, to teach us the meaning of 
leisure, to acquaint us with the charms of the open 
air, to strengthen and foster the tie between the 
race and the land. No one else looks out upon the 
world so kindly and charitably as the pedestrian; 
no one else gives and takes so much from the coun- 
try he passes through. Next to the laborer in the 
fields, the walker holds the closest relation to the 
soil; and he holds a closer and more vital relation 
to nature because he is freer and his mind more at 
leisure. 

Man takes root at his feet, and at best he is no 
more than a potted plant in his house or carriage 
till he has established communication with the soil 
by the loving and magnetic touch of his soles to it. 
Then the tie of association is born; then spring 
those invisible fibres and rootlets through which 
character comes to smack of the soil, and which 



36 THE EXHILARATIONS OF THE ROAD 

make a man kindred to the spot of earth he in- 
habits. 

The roads and paths you have walked along in 
summer and winter weather, the fields and hills 
which you have looked upon in lightness and glad- 
ness of heart, where fresh thoughts have come into 
your mind, or some noble prospect has opened be- 
fore you, and especially the quiet ways where you 
have walked in sweet converse with your friend, 
pausing under the trees, drinking at the spring, — 
henceforth they are not the same; a new charm is 
added ; those thoughts spring there perennial, your 
friend walks there forever. 

We have produced some good walkers and saun- 
terers, and some noted climbers; but as a staple 
recreation, as a daily practice, the mass of the peo- 
ple dislike and despise walking. Thoreau said he 
was a good horse, but a poor roadster. I chant the 
virtues of the roadster as well. I sing of the sweet- 
ness of gravel, good sharp quartz-grit. It is the 
proper condiment for the sterner seasons, and many 
a human gizzard would be cured of half its ills by 
a suitable daily allowance of it. I think Thoreau 
himself would have profited immensely by it. His 
diet was too exclusively vegetable. A man cannot 
live on grass alone. If one has been a lotus-eater 
all summer, he must turn gravel-eater in the fall 
and winter. Those who have tried it know that 
gravel possesses an equal though an opposite charm. 



THE EXHILARATIONS OF THE ROAD 37 

It spurs to action. The foot tastes it and hence- 
forth rests not. The joy of moving and surmount- 
ing, of attrition and progression, the thirst for space, 
for miles and leagues of distance, for sights and 
prospects, to cross mountains and thread rivers, 
and defy frost, heat, snow, danger, difficulties, seizes 
it; and from that day forth its possessor is enrolled 
in the noble army of walkers. 



BIRD LIFE IN AN OLD APPLE-TREE l 

NEAR my study there used to stand several old 
apple-trees that bore fair crops of apples, but 
better crops of birds. Every year these old trees 
were the scenes of bird incidents and bird histories 
that were a source of much interest and amusement. 
Young trees may be the best for apples, but old 
trees are sure to bear the most birds. If they are 
very decrepit, and full of dead and hollow branches, 
they will bear birds in winter as well as summer. 
The downy woodpecker wants no better place than 
the brittle, dozy trunk of an apple-tree in which 
to excavate his winter home. My old apple-trees 
are all down but one, and this one is probably an 
octogenarian, and I am afraid cannot stand another 
winter. Its body is a mere shell not much over one 
inch thick, the heart and main interior structure 
having turned to black mould long ago. An old 
tree, unlike an old person, as long as it lives at all, 
always has a young streak, or rather ring, in it. It 
wears a girdle of perpetual youth. 

My old tree has never yet failed to yield me a 
bushel or more of gillyflowers, and it has turned out 

1 From Riverby. 



BIRD LIFE IN AN OLD APPLE-TREE 39 

at least a dozen broods of the great crested flycatcher, 
and robins and bluebirds in proportion. It carries 
up one large decayed trunk, which some one sawed 
off at the top before my time, and in this a downy 
woodpecker is now, January 12, making a home. 
Several years ago, a downy woodpecker excavated a 
retreat in this branch, which the following season 
was appropriated by the bluebirds, and has been 
occupied by them nearly every season since. When 
the bluebirds first examined the cavity in the 
spring, I suppose they did not find the woodpecker 
at home, as he is a pretty early riser. 

I happened to be passing near the tree when, on 
again surveying the premises one afternoon, they 
found him in. The male bluebird was very angry, 
and I suppose looked upon the innocent downy 
as an intruder. He seized on him, and the two fell 
to the ground, the speckled woodpecker quite cov- 
ered by the blue coat of his antagonist. Downy 
screamed vigorously, and got away as soon as he 
could, but not till the bluebird had tweaked out a 
feather or two. He is evidently no fighter, though 
one would think that a bird that had an instrument 
with which it could drill a hole into a tree could 
defend itself against the soft-billed bluebird. 

Two seasons the English sparrows ejected the 
bluebirds and established themselves in it, but 
were in turn ejected by me, their furniture of hens' 
feathers and straws pitched out, and the bluebirds 



40 BIRD LIFE IN AN OLD APPLE-TREE 

invited to return, which later in the season they 
did. 

The new cavity which downy is now drilling is 
just above the old one and near the top of the stub. 
Its wells are usually sunk to a depth of six or eight 
inches, but in the present case it cannot be sunk 
more than four inches without breaking through 
into the old cavity. Downy seems to have considered 
the situation, and is proceeding cautiously. As she 
passed last night in her new quarters, I am inclined 
to think it is about finished, and there must be at 
least one inch of wood beneath her. She worked 
vigorously the greater part of the day, her yellow 
chips strewing the snow beneath. I paused several 
times to observe her proceedings. After her chips 
accumulate, she stops her drilling and throws them 
out. This she does with her beak, shaking them 
out very rapidly with a flirt of her head. She did 
not disappear from sight each time to load her beak, 
but withdrew her head, and appeared to seize the 
fragments as if from her feet. If she had had a com- 
panion, I should have thought he was handing them 
up to her from the bottom of the cavity. Maybe 
she had them piled up near the doorway. 

The woodpeckers, both the hairy and the downy, 
usually excavate these winter retreats in the fall. 
They pass the nights and the stormy days in them. 
So far as I have observed, they do not use them 
as nesting-places the following season. Last night 



BIRD LIFE IN AN OLD APPLE-TREE 41 

when I rapped on the trunk of the old apple-tree 
near sundown, downy put out her head with a sur- 
prised and inquiring look, and then withdrew it 
again as I passed on. 

I have spoken of the broods of the great crested 
flycatchers that have been reared in the old apple- 
tree. This is by no means a common bird, and as 
it destroys many noxious insects, I look upon it with 
a friendly eye, though it is the most uncouth and 
unmusical of the flycatchers. Indeed, among the 
other birds of the garden and orchard it seems quite 
like a barbarian. It has a harsh, froglike scream, 
form and manners to suit, and is clad in a suit of 
butternut brown. It seeks a cast-off snakeskin to 
weave into its nest, and not finding one, will take 
an onion skin, a piece of oiled paper, or large fish 
scales. It builds in a cavity in a tree, rears one 
brood, and is off early in the season. I never see or 
hear it after August 1. 

A pair have built in a large, hollow limb in my 
old apple-tree for many years. Whether it is the 
same pair or not, I do not know. Probably it is, or 
else some of their descendants. I looked into the 
cavity one day while the mother bird was upon the 
nest, but before she had laid any eggs. A sudden 
explosive sound came up out of the dark depths of 
the limb, much like that made by an alarmed cat. 
It made me jerk my head back, when out came the 
bird and hurried off. For several days I saw no 



42 BIRD LIFE IN AN OLD APPLE-TREE 

more of the pair, and feared they had deserted the 
spot, But they had not; they were only more sly 
than usual. I soon discovered an egg in the nest, 
and then another and another. 

One day, as I stood near by, a male bluebird came 
along with his mate, prospecting for a spot for a 
second nest. He alighted at the entrance of this 
hole and peeped in. Instantly the flycatcher was 
upon him. The blue was enveloped by the butter- 
nut brown. The two fell to the ground, where the 
bluebird got away, and in a moment more came 
back and looked in the hole again, as much as 
to say, u I will look into that hole now at all haz- 
ards." The barbarian made a dash for him again, 
but he was now on his guard and avoided her. 

Not long after, the bluebirds decided to occupy 
the old cavity of the downy woodpecker from which 
I had earlier in the season expelled the English 
sparrows. After they had established themselves 
here, a kind of border war broke out between the 
male bluebird and the flycatchers, and was kept up 
for weeks. The bluebird is very jealous and very 
bold. He will not even tolerate a house wren in 
the vicinity of his nest. Every bird that builds in 
a cavity he looks upon as his natural rival and en- 
emy. The flycatchers did not seek any quarrel with 
him as long as he kept to his own domicile, but he 
could not tolerate them in the same tree. It was a 
pretty sight to see this little blue-coat charging the 



BIRD LIFE IN AN OLD APPLE-TREE 43 

butternut through the trees. The beak of the latter 
would click like a gunlock, and its harsh, savage 
voice was full of anger, but the bluebird never 
flinched, and was always ready to renew the fight. 

The English sparrow will sometimes worst the 
bluebird by getting possession of the box or cavity 
ahead of him. Once inside, the sparrow can hold 
the fort, and the bluebird will soon give up the 
siege; but in a fair field and no favor, the native 
bird will quickly rout the foreigner. 

Speaking of birds that build in cavities reminds 
me of a curious trait the high-hole has developed in 
my vicinity, one which I have never noticed or heard 
of elsewhere. It drills into buildings and steeples 
and telegraph poles, and in some instances makes 
itself a serious nuisance. One season the large imi- 
tation Greek columns of an unoccupied old-fash- 
ioned summer residence near me were badly marred 
by them. The bird bored into one column, and find- 
ing the cavity — a foot or more across — not just 
what it was looking for, cut into another one, and 
into still another. Then he bored into the ice-house 
on the premises, and in the sawdust filling between 
the outer and inner sheathing found a place to his 
liking. One bird seemed like a monomaniac, and 
drilled holes up and down and right and left, as if 
possessed of an evil spirit. It is quite probable that 
if a high-hole or other woodpecker should go crazy, 
it would take to just this sort of thing, drilling into 



44 BIRD LIFE IN AN OLD APPLE-TREE 

seasoned timber till it used its strength up. The 
one I refer to would cut through a dry hemlock 
board in a very short time, making the slivers fly. 
The sound was like that of a carpenter's hammer. 
It may have been that he was an unmated bird, a 
bachelor, whose suit had not prospered that season, 
and who was giving vent to his outraged instincts in 
drilling these mock nesting-places. 



BIRD COURTSHIP i 

THERE is something about the matchmaking of 
birds that is not easily penetrated. The jeal- 
ousies and rivalries of the males and of the females 
are easily understood, — they are quite human; but 
those sudden rushes of several males, some of them 
already mated, after one female, with squeals and 
screams and a great clatter of wings, — what does it 
mean ? There is nothing human about that, unless it 
be illustrative of a trait that has at times cropped out 
in the earlier races, and which is still seen among 
the Eskimos, where the male carries off the female 
by force. But in these sudden sallies among the 
birds, the female, so far as I have observed, is never 
carried off. One may see half a dozen English spar- 
rows engaged in what at first glance appears to be a 
general melee in the gutter or on the sidewalk; but 
if you look more closely, you will see a single female 
in the midst of the mass, beating off the males, who, 
with plumage puffed out and screaming and chatter- 
ing, are all making a set at her. She strikes right 
and left, and seems to be equally displeased with 
them all. But her anger may be all put on, and she 
may be giving the wink all the time to her favorite, 

1 From Biverby. 



46 BIRD COURTSHIP 

The Eskimo maiden is said by Doctor Nansen to 
resist stoutly being carried off even by the man she 
is desperately in love with. 

In the latter half of April, we pass through what 
I call the "robin racket," — trains of three or four 
birds rushing pell-mell over the lawn and fetch- 
ing up in a tree or bush, or occasionally upon the 
ground, all piping and screaming at the top of their 
voices, but whether in mirth or anger it is hard to 
tell. The nucleus of the train is a female. One can- 
not see that the males in pursuit of her are rivals; 
it seems rather as if they had united to hustle her 
out of the place. But somehow the matches are no 
doubt made and sealed during these mad rushes. 
Maybe the female shouts out to her suitors, " Who 
touches me first wins," and away she scurries like 
an arrow. The males shout out, "Agreed!" and 
away they go in pursuit, each trying to outdo the 
other. The game is a brief one. Before one can get 
the clew to it, the party has dispersed. 

Earlier in the season the pretty sparring of the 
males is the chief feature. You may see two robins 
apparently taking a walk or a run together over the 
sward or along the road; only first one bird runs, 
and then the other. They keep a few feet apart, 
stand very erect, and the course of each describes the 
segment of an arc about the other, thus : — 



BIRD COURTSHIP 47 

How courtly and deferential their manners toward 
each other are! often they pipe a shrill, fine strain, 
audible only a few yards away. Then, in a twink- 
ling, one makes a spring and they are beak to beak, 
and claw to claw, as they rise up a few feet into 
the air. But usually no blow is delivered; not a 
feather is ruffled; each, I suppose, finds the guard of 
the other perfect. Then they settle down upon the 
ground again, and go through with the same run- 
ning challenge as before. How their breasts glow in 
the strong April sunlight ; how perk and military the 
bearing of each! Often they will run about each 
other in this way for many rods. iVfter a week or so 
the males seem to have fought all their duels, when 
the rush and racket I have already described begin. 

The bluebird wins his mate by the ardor of his 
attentions and the sincerity of his compliments, and 
by finding a house ready built which cannot be sur- 
passed. The male bluebird is usually here several 
days before the female, and he sounds forth his note 
as loudly and eloquently as he can till she appears. 
On her appearance he flies at once to the box or tree 
cavity upon which he has had his eye, and, as he 
looks into it, calls and warbles in his most persuasive 
tones. The female at such times is always shy and 
backward, and the contrast in the manners of the 
two birds is as striking as the contrast in their colors. 
The male is brilliant and ardent ; the female is dim 
and retiring, not to say indifferent. She may take a 



48 BIRD COURTSHIP 

hasty peep into the hole in the box or tree and then 
fly away, uttering a lonesome, homesick note. Only 
by a wooing of many days is she to be fully won. 

The past April I was witness one Sunday morning 
to the jealousies that may rage in these little brown 
breasts. A pair of bluebirds had apparently mated 
and decided to occupy a woodpecker's lodge in the 
limb of an old apple-tree near my study. But that 
morning another male appeared on the scene, and 
was bent on cutting the first male out, and carry- 
ing off his bride. I happened to be near by when 
the two birds came into collision. They fell to the 
grass, and kept their grip upon each other for half 
a minute. Then they separated, and the first up flew 
to the hole and called fondly to the female. This 
was too much for the other male, and they clinched 
again and fell to the ground as before. There they 
lay upon the grass, blue and brown intermingled. 
But not a feather was tweaked out, or even disturbed, 
that I could see. They simply held each other down. 
Then they separated again, and again rushed upon 
each other. The battle raged for about fifteen min- 
utes, when one of the males — which one, of course, 
I could not tell — withdrew and flew r to a box under 
the eaves of the study, and exerted all the eloquence 
he possessed to induce the female to come to him 
there. How he warbled and called, and lifted his 
wings and flew to the entrance to the box and called 
again! The female was evidently strongly attracted; 



BIRD COURTSHIP 49 

she would respond and fly about halfway to an 
apple-tree, and look toward him. The other male, 
in the mean time, did his best to persuade her to 
cast her lot with him. He followed her to the tree 
toward his rival, and then flew back to the nest and 
spread his plumage and called and warbled, oh, so 
confidently, so fondly, so reassuringly ! When the fe- 
male would return and peep into the hole in the tree, 
what fine, joyous notes he would utter! then he 
would look in and twinkle his wings, and say some- 
thing his rival could not hear. This vocal and pan- 
tomimic contest went on for a long time. The fe- 
male was evidently greatly shaken in her allegiance 
to the male in the old apple-tree. In less than an 
hour another female responded to the male who had 
sought the eaves of the study, and flew with him 
to the box. Whether this was their first meeting 
or not I do not know, but it was clear enough that 
the heart of the male was fixed upon the bride of 
his rival. He would devote himself a moment to the 
new-comer, and then turn toward the old apple-tree 
and call and lift his wings; then, apparently admon- 
ished by the bird near him, he would turn again to 
her and induce her to look into the box, and would 
warble fondly; then up on a higher branch again, 
with his attention directed toward his first love, be- 
tween whom and himself salutations seemed con- 
stantly passing. This little play went on for some 
time, when the two females came into collision, and 



50 BIRD COURTSHIP 

fell to the ground tweaking each other spitefully. 
Then the four birds drifted away from me down into 
the vineyard, where the males closed with each other 
again and fell to the plowed ground and lay there 
a surprisingly long time, nearly two minutes, as we 
calculated. Their wings were outspread, and their 
forms were indistinguishable. They tugged at each 
other most doggedly; one or the other brown breast 
was generally turned up, partly overlaid by a blue 
coat. They were determined to make a finish of 
it this time, but which got the better of the fight 
I could not tell. But it was the last battle ; they 
finally separated, neither, apparently, any the worse 
for the encounter. The females fought two more 
rounds, the males looking on and warbling approv- 
ingly when they separated, and the two pairs drifted 
away in different directions. The next day they 
were about the box and tree again, and seemed to 
have definitely settled matters. Who won and who 
lost I do not know, but two pairs of bluebirds have 
since been very busy and very happy about the two 
nesting-places. One of the males I recognize as a 
bird that appeared early in March ; I recognize him 
from one peculiar note in the midst of his warble, 
a note that suggests a whistle. 

The matchmaking of the high-holes, which often 
comes under my observation, is in marked contrast 
to that of the robins and the bluebirds. There does 
not appear to be any anger or any blows. The male 



BIRD COURTSHIP 51 

or two males will alight on a limb in front of the 
female, and go through with a series of bowings 
and scrapings that are truly comical. He spreads 
his tail, he puffs out his breast, he throws back his 
head, and then bends his body to the right and to 
the left, uttering all the while a curious musical hic- 
cough. The female confronts him unmoved, but 
whether her attitude is critical or defensive, I can- 
not tell. Presently she flies away, followed by her 
suitor or suitors, and the little comedy is enacted on 
another stump or tree. Among all the woodpeckers 
the drum plays an important part in the match- 
making. The male takes up his stand on a dry, 
resonant limb, or on the ridgeboard of a building, 
and beats the loudest call he is capable of. The 
downy woodpecker usually has a particular branch 
to which he resorts for advertising his matrimonial 
wants. A favorite drum of the high-holes about me 
is a hollow wooden tube, a section of a pump, which 
stands as a bird-box upon my summer-house. It is 
a good instrument; its tone is sharp and clear. A 
high-hole alights upon it, and sends forth a rattle 
that can be heard a long way off. Then he lifts up 
his head and utters that long April call, Wick, wick, 
wick, wick. Then he drums again. If the female 
does not find him, it is not because he does not make 
noise enough. But his sounds are all welcome to 
the ear. They are simple and primitive, and voice 
well a certain sentiment of the April days. As I 



52 BIRD COURTSHIP 

write these lines I hear through the half -open door 
his call come up from a distant field. Then I hear 
the steady hammering of one that has been for three 
days trying to penetrate the weather boarding of 
the big icehouse by the river, and to reach the saw- 
dust filling for a nesting-place. 

Among our familiar birds the matchmaking of 
none other is quite so pretty as that of the goldfinch. 
The goldfinches stay with us in loose flocks and 
clad in a dull-olive suit throughout the winter. In 
May the males begin to put on their bright summer 
plumage. This is the result of a kind of super- 
ficial moulting. Their feathers are not shed, but 
their dusky covering or overalls are cast off. When 
the process is only partly completed, the bird has a 
smutty, unpresentable appearance. But we seldom 
see them at such times. They seem to retire from 
society. When the change is complete, and the males 
have got their bright uniforms of yellow and black, 
the courting begins. All the goldfinches of a neigh- 
borhood collect together and hold a sort of musical 
festival. To the number of many dozens they may 
be seen in some large tree, all singing and calling 
in the most joyous and vivacious manner. The 
males sing, and the females chirp and call. Whether 
there is actual competition on a trial of musical abil- 
ities of the males before the females or not, I do 
not know. The best of feeling seems to pervade the 
company; there is no sign of quarreling or fight- 



BIRD COURTSHIP 53 

ing; "all goes merry as a marriage bell," and the 
matches seem actually to be made during these musi- 
cal picnics. Before May is passed the birds are seen 
in couples, and in June housekeeping usually be- 
gins. This I call the ideal of love-making among 
birds, and is in striking contrast to the squabbles 
and jealousies of most of our songsters. 

I have known the goldfinches to keep up this 
musical and love-making festival through three con- 
secutive days of a cold northeast rainstorm. Be- 
draggled, but ardent and happy, the birds were not 
to be dispersed by wind or weather. 

All the woodpeckers, so far as I have observed, 
drum up their mates ; the male advertises his wants 
by hammering upon a dry, resonant limb, when in 
due time the female approaches and is duly courted 
and won. The drumming of the ruffed grouse is 
for the same purpose; the female hears, concludes 
to take a walk that way, approaches timidly, is seen 
and admired, and the match is made. That the 
male accepts the first female that offers herself is 
probable. Among all the birds the choice, the se- 
lection, seems to belong to the female. The males 
court promiscuously; the females choose discreetly. 
The grouse, unlike the woodpecker, always carries 
his drum with him, which is his own proud breast; 
yet, if undisturbed, he selects some particular log 
or rock in the woods from which to sound forth his 
willingness to wed. What determines the choice of 



54 BIRD COURTSHIP 

the female it would be hard to say. Among song- 
birds, it is probably the best songster, or the one 
whose voice suits her taste best. Among birds 
of bright plumage, it is probably the gayest dress; 
among the drummers, she is doubtless drawn by 
some quality of the sound. Our ears and eyes are too 
coarse to note any differences in these things, but 
doubtless the birds themselves note differences. 

Birds show many more human traits than do quad- 
rupeds. That they actually fall in love admits of 
no doubt; that there is a period of courtship, during 
which the male uses all the arts he is capable of to 
win his mate, is equally certain; that there are jeal- 
ousies and rivalries, and that the peace of families is 
often rudely disturbed by outside males or females 
is a common observation. The females, when they 
come to blows, fight much more spitefully and reck- 
lessly than do the males. One species of bird has 
been known to care for the young of another species 
which had been made orphans. The male turkey 
will sometimes cover the eggs of his mate and hatch 
and rear the brood alone. Altogether, birds often 
present some marked resemblances in their actions 
to men, when love is the motive. 

Mrs. Martin, in her " Home Life on an Ostrich 
Farm," relates this curious incident: — 

" One undutiful hen — having apparently im- 
bibed advanced notions — absolutely refused to sit 
at all, and the poor husband, determined not to be 



BIRD COURTSHIP 55 

disappointed of his little family, did all the work 
himself, sitting bravely and patiently day and night, 
though nearly dead with exhaustion, till the chicks 
were hatched out. The next time this pair of birds 
had a nest, the cock's mind was firmly made up that 
he would stand no more nonsense. He fought the 
hen [kicked her], giving her so severe a thrashing 
that she was all but killed, and this Petruchio-like 
treatment had the desired effect, for the wife never 
again rebelled, but sat submissively." 

In the case of another pair of ostriches of which 
Mrs. Martin tells, the female was accidentally killed, 
when the male mourned her loss for over two years, 
and would not look at another female. He wan- 
dered up and down, up and down, the length of his 
camp, utterly disconsolate. At last he mated again 
with a most magnificent hen, who ruled him tyran- 
nically; he became the most hen-pecked, or rather 
hen-kicked, of husbands. 



THE SNOW-WALKERS 1 

THE track of the red squirrel may be known by- 
its smaller size. He is more common and less 
dignified than the gray, and oftener guilty of petty 
larceny about the barns and grain-fields. He is most 
abundant in old barkpeelings, and low, dilapidated 
hemlocks, from which he makes excursions to the 
fields and orchards, spinning along the tops of the 
fences, which afford not only convenient lines of 
communication, but a safe retreat if danger threat- 
ens. He loves to linger about the orchard; and, 
sitting upright on the topmost stone in the wall, or 
on the tallest stake in the fence, chipping up an 
apple for the seeds, his tail conforming to the curve 
of his back, his paws shifting and turning the apple, 
he is a pretty sight, and his bright, pert appearance 
atones for all the mischief he does. At home, in 
the woods, he is the most frolicsome and loquacious. 
The appearance of anything unusual, if, after con- 
templating it a moment, he concludes it not dan- 
gerous, excites his unbounded mirth and ridicule, 
and he snickers and chatters, hardly able to contain 
himself; now darting up the trunk of a tree and 
squealing in derision, then hopping into position on 

1 An excerpt from a chapter in Winter Sunshine. 



THE SNOW-WALKERS 57 

a limb and dancing to the music of his own cackle, 
and all for your special benefit. 

There is something very human in this apparent 
mirth and mockery of the squirrels. It seems to 
be a sort of ironical laughter, and implies self-con- 
scious pride and exultation in the laugher. "What 
a ridiculous thing you are, to be sure!" he seems to 
say; "how clumsy and awkward, and what a poor 
show for a tail! Look at me, look at me!" — and 
he capers about in his best style. Again, he would 
seem to tease you and provoke your attention; then 
suddenly assumes a tone of good-natured, childlike 
defiance and derision. That pretty little imp, the 
chipmunk, will sit on the stone above his den and 
defy you, as plainly as if he said so, to catch him 
before he can get into his hole if you can. You 
hurl a stone at him, and "No you did n't!" comes 
up from the depth of his retreat. 

In February another track appears upon the 
snow, slender and delicate, about a third larger than 
that of the gray squirrel, indicating no haste or 
speed, but, on the contrary, denoting the most im- 
perturbable ease and leisure, the footprints so close 
together that the trail appears like a chain of curi- 
ously carved links. Sir Mephitis mephitica, or, 
in plain English, the skunk, has awakened from his 
six weeks' nap, and come out into society again. 
He is a nocturnal traveler, very bold and impudent, 
coming quite up to the barn and outbuildings, and 



58 THE SNOW-WALKERS 

sometimes taking up his quarters for the season un- 
der the haymow. There is no such word as hurry- 
in his dictionary, as you may see by his path upon 
the snow. He has a very sneaking, insinuating 
way, and goes creeping about the fields and woods, 
never once in a perceptible degree altering his gait, 
and, if a fence crosses his course, steers for a break 
or opening to avoid climbing. He is too indolent 
even to dig his own hole, but appropriates that of 
a woodchuck, or hunts out a crevice in the rocks, 
from which he extends his rambling in all direc- 
tions, preferring damp, thawy weather. He has 
very little discretion or cunning, and holds a trap 
in utter contempt, stepping into it as soon as beside 
it, relying implicitly for defense against all forms of 
danger upon the unsavory punishment he is capable 
of inflicting. He is quite indifferent to both man 
and beast, and will not hurry himself to get out of 
the way of either. Walking through the summer 
fields at twilight, I have come near stepping upon 
him, and was much the more disturbed of the two. 
When attacked in the open fields he confounds the 
plans of his enemies by the unheard-of tactics of 
exposing his rear rather than his front. "Come if 
you dare," he says, and his attitude makes even 
the farm-dog pause. After a few encounters of 
this kind, and if you entertain the usual hostility 
towards him, your mode of attack will speedily re- 
solve itself into moving about him in a circle, the 



THE SNOW-WALKERS 59 

radius of which will be the exact distance at which 
you can hurl a stone with accuracy and effect. 

He has a secret to keep and knows it, and is 
careful not to betray himself until he can do so with 
the most telling effect. I have known him to pre- 
serve his serenity even when caught in a steel trap, 
and look the very picture of injured innocence, 
manoeuvring carefully and deliberately to extricate 
his foot from the grasp of the naughty jaws. Do 
not by any means take pity on him, and lend a 
helping hand! 

How pretty his face and head! How fine and 
delicate his teeth, like a weasel's or cat's! When 
about a third grown, he looks so well that one cov- 
ets him for a pet. He is quite precocious, however, 
and capable, even at this tender age, of making a 
very strong appeal to your sense of smell. 

No animal is more cleanly in its habits than he. 
He is not an awkward boy who cuts his own face 
with his whip; and neither his flesh nor his fur 
hints the weapon with which he is armed. The 
most silent creature known to me, he makes no 
sound, so far as I have observed, save a diffuse, 
impatient noise, like that produced by beating your 
hand with a whisk-broom, when the farm-dog has 
discovered his retreat in the stone fence. He 
renders himself obnoxious to the farmer by his par- 
tiality for hens' eggs and young poultry. He is a 
confirmed epicure, and at plundering hen-roosts an 



60 THE SNOW-WALKERS 

expert. Not the full-grown fowls are his victims, 
but the youngest and most tender. At night Mother 
Hen receives under her maternal wings a dozen 
newly hatched chickens, and with much pride and 
satisfaction feels them all safely tucked away in her 
feathers. In the morning she is walking about dis- 
consolately, attended by only two or three of all 
that pretty brood. What has happened? Where 
are they gone? That pickpocket, Sir Mephitis, 
could solve the mystery. Quietly has he approached, 
under cover of darkness, and one by one relieved 
her of her precious charge. Look closely and you 
will see their little yellow legs and beaks, or part 
of a mangled form, lying about on the ground. Or, 
before the hen has hatched, he may find her out, 
and, by the same sleight of hand, remove every eggy 
leaving only the empty blood-stained shells to wit- 
ness against him. The birds, especially the ground- 
builders, suffer in like manner from his plundering 
propensities. 

The secretion upon which he relies for defense, 
and which is the chief source of his unpopularity, 
while it affords good reasons against cultivating him 
as a pet, and mars his attractiveness as game, is by 
no means the greatest indignity that can be offered 
to a nose. It is a rank, living smell, and has none 
of the sickening qualities of disease or putrefaction. 
Indeed, I think a good smeller will enjoy its most 
refined intensity. It approaches the sublime, and 



THE SNOW-WALKERS 61 

makes the nose tingle. It is tonic and bracing, and, 
I can readily believe, has rare medicinal qualities. 
I do not recommend its use as eyewater, though an 
old farmer assures me it has undoubted virtues when 
thus applied. Hearing, one night, a disturbance 
among his hens, he rushed suddenly out to catch 
the thief, when Sir Mephitis, taken by surprise, and 
no doubt much annoyed at being interrupted, dis- 
charged the vials of his wrath full in the farmer's 
face, and with such admirable effect that, for a few 
moments, he was completely blinded, and powerless 
to revenge himself upon the rogue, who embraced 
the opportunity to make good his escape; but he 
declared that afterwards his eyes felt as if purged 
by fire, and his sight was much clearer. 



AMONG THE WILD FLOWERS 1 

ONE sometimes seems to discover a familiar wild 
flower anew by coming upon it in some pecu- 
liar and striking situation. Our columbine is at all 
times and in all places one of the most exquisitely 
beautiful of flowers; yet one spring day, when I saw 
it growing out of a small seam on the face of a great 
lichen-covered wall of rock, where no soil or mould 
was visible, — a jet of foliage and color shooting 
out of a black line on the face of a perpendicular 
mountain wall and rising up like a tiny fountain, 
its drops turning to flame-colored jewels that hung 
and danced in the air against the gray rocky sur- 
face, — its beauty became something magical and 
audacious. On little narrow shelves in the rocky 
wall the corydalis was blooming, and among the 
loose bowlders at its base the blood-root shone con- 
spicuous, suggesting snow rather than anything more 
sanguine. 

Certain flowers one makes special expeditions for 
every season. They are limited in their ranges, 
and must generally be sought for in particular 
haunts. How many excursions to the woods does 
the delicious trailing arbutus give rise to! How 

1 An excerpt from a chapter in Riverby. 



AMONG THE WILD FLOWERS 63 

can one let the spring go by without gathering it 
himself when it hides in the moss ! There are arbu- 
tus days in one's calendar, days when the trail- 
ing flower fairly calls him to the woods. With me, 
they come the latter part of April. The grass is 
greening here and there on the moist slopes and by 
the spring runs; the first furrow has been struck 
by the farmer; the liver-leaf is in the height of its 
beauty, and the bright constellations of the blood- 
root shine out here and there; one has had his first 
taste and his second taste of the spring and of the 
woods, and his tongue is sharpened rather than 
cloyed. Now he will take the most delicious and 
satisfying draught of all, the very essence and soul 
of the early season, of the tender brooding days, 
with all their prophecies and awakenings, in the 
handful of trailing arbutus which he gathers in his 
walk. At the mere thought of it, one sees the sun- 
light flooding the woods, smells the warm earthy 
odors which the heat liberates from beneath the dry 
leaves, hears the mellow bass of the first bumble- 
bee, 

" Rover of the underwoods," 

or the finer chord of the adventurous honey-bee 
seeking store for his empty comb. The arriving 
swallows twitter above the woods; the first che- 
wink rustles the dry leaves; the northward -bound 
thrushes, the hermit and the gray-cheeked, flit here 



64 AMONG THE WILD FLOWERS 

and there before you. The robin, the sparrow, and 
the bluebird are building their first nests, and the 
first shad are making their way slowly up the Hud- 
son. Indeed, the season is fairly under way when 
the trailing arbutus comes. Now look out for 
troops of boys and girls going to the woods to gather 
it! and let them look out that in their greed they 
do not exterminate it. Within reach of our large 
towns, the choicer spring wild flowers are hunted 
mercilessly. Every fresh party from town raids 
them as if bent upon their destruction. One day, 
about ten miles from one of our Hudson River 
cities, there got into the train six young women 
loaded down with vast sheaves and bundles of 
trailing arbutus. Each one of them had enough for 
forty. They had apparently made a clean sweep of 
the woods. It was a pretty sight, — the pink and 
white of the girls and the pink and white of the 
flowers! and the car, too, was suddenly filled with 
perfume, — the breath of spring loaded the air; but 
I thought it a pity to ravish the woods in that way. 
The next party was probably equally greedy, and, 
because a handful was desirable, thought an armful 
proportionately so; till, by and by, the flower will 
be driven from those woods. 

Another flower that one makes special excursions 
for is the pond-lily. The pond-lily is a star, and 
easily takes the first place among lilies; and the ex- 
peditions to her haunts, and the gathering her where 



AMONG THE WILD FLOWERS 65 

she rocks upon the dark secluded waters of some 
pool or lakelet, are the crown and summit of the 
floral expeditions of summer. It is the expedition 
about which more things gather than almost any 
other: you want your boat, you want your lunch, 
you want your friend or friends with you. You 
are going to put in the greater part of the day; you 
are going to picnic in the woods, and indulge in a 
"green thought in a green shade." When my friend 
and I go for pond-lilies, we have to traverse a dis- 
tance of three miles with our boat in a wagon. The 
road is what is called a "back road," and leads 
through woods most of the way. Black Pond, 
where the lilies grow, lies about one hundred feet 
higher than the Hudson, from which it is separated 
by a range of rather bold wooded heights, one of 
which might well be called Mount Hymettus, for I 
have found a great deal of wild honey in the forest 
that covers it. The stream which flows out of 
the pond takes a northward course for tw T o or three 
miles, till it finds an opening through the rocky 
hills, when it makes rapidly for the Hudson. Its 
career all the way from the lake is a series of alter- 
nating pools and cascades. Now a long, deep, level 
stretch, where the perch and the bass and the pick- 
erel lurk, and where the willow-herb and the royal 
osmunda fern line the shores; then a sudden leap 
of eight, ten, or fifteen feet down rocks to another 
level stretch, where the water again loiters and suns 



66 AMONG THE WILD FLOWERS 

itself; and so on through its adventurous course till 
the hills are cleared and the river is in sight. Our 
road leads us along this stream, across its rude 
bridges, through dark hemlock and pine woods, 
under gray, rocky walls, now past a black pool, then 
within sight or hearing of a foaming rapid or fall, 
till we strike the outlet of the long level that leads 
to the lake. In this we launch our boat and paddle 
slowly upward over its dark surface, now pushing 
our way through half-submerged treetops, then 
ducking under the trunk of an overturned tree which 
bridges the stream and makes a convenient way for 
the squirrels and wood-mice, or else forcing the boat 
over it when it is sunk a few inches below the sur- 
face. We are traversing what was once a continu- 
ation of the lake; the forest floor is as level as the 
water and but a few inches above it, even in sum- 
mer; it sweeps back a half mile or more, densely 
covered with black ash, red maple, and other de- 
ciduous trees, to the foot of the rocky hills which 
shut us in. What glimpses we get, as we steal 
along, into the heart of the rank, dense, silent 
woods ! I carry in my eye yet the vision I had, on 
one occasion, of a solitary meadow lily hanging like 
a fairy bell there at the end of a chance opening, 
where a ray of sunlight fell full upon it, and brought 
out its brilliant orange against the dark green 
background. It appeared to be the only bit of bright 
color in all the woods. Then the song of a single 



AMONG THE WILD FLOWERS 67 

hermit thrush immediately after did even more 
for the ear than the lily did for the eye. Presently 
the swamp sparrow, one of the rarest of the spar- 
Tows, was seen and heard; and that nest there in a 
small bough a few feet over the water proves to be 
hers, — in appearance a ground-bird's nest in a 
bough, with the same four speckled eggs. As we 
come in sight of the lilies, where they cover the 
water at the outlet of the lake, a brisk gust of wind, 
as if it had been waiting to surprise us, sweeps 
down and causes every leaf to leap from the water 
and show its pink under side. Was it a fluttering of 
hundreds of wings, or the clapping of a multitude 
of hands? But there rocked the lilies with their 
golden hearts open to the sun, and their tender 
white petals as fresh as crystals of snow. What a 
queenly flower, indeed, the type of unsullied purity 
and sweetness! Its root, like a black, corrugated, 
ugly reptile, clinging to the slime, but its flower in 
purity and whiteness like a star. There is some- 
thing very pretty in the closed bud making its way 
up through the water to meet the sun; and there is 
something touching in the flower closing itself up 
again after its brief career, and slowly burying itself 
beneath the dark wave. One almost fancies a sad, 
regretful look in it as the stem draws it downward 
to mature its seed on the sunless bottom. The pond- 
lily is a flower of the morning; it closes a little after 
noon; but after you have plucked it and carried it 



68 AMONG THE WILD FLOWERS 

home, it still feels the call of the morning sun, and 
will open to him, if you give it a good chance. Coil 
their stems up in the grass on the lawn, where the 
sun's rays can reach them, and sprinkle them copi- 
ously. By the time you are ready for your morning 
walk, there they sit upon the moist grass, almost as 
charmingly as upon the wave. 

Our more choice wild flowers, the rarer and finer 
spirits among them, please us by their individual 
beauty and charm; others, more coarse and com- 
mon, delight us by mass and profusion; we regard 
not the one, but the many, as did Wordsworth his 
golden daffodils : — 

" Ten thousand saw I at a glance 
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance." 

Of such is the marsh marigold, giving a golden 
lining to many a dark, marshy place in the leafless 
April woods, or marking a little watercourse through 
a greening meadow with a broad line of new gold. 
One glances up from his walk, and his eye falls upon 
something like fixed and heaped-up sunshine there 
beneath the alders, or yonder in the freshening 
field. 



THE DIVINE SOIL 1 

ONE thing we may affirm about the universe — 
it is logical; the conclusion always follows from 
the premises. 

The lesson which life repeats and constantly 
enforces is "look under foot." You are always 
nearer the divine and the true sources of your 
power than you think. The lure of the distant and 
the difficult is deceptive. The great opportunity is 
where you are. Do not despise your own place and 
hour. Every place is under the stars, every place is 
the centre of the world. Stand in your own door- 
yard and you have eight thousand miles of solid 
ground beneath you, and all the sidereal splendors 
overhead. The morning and the evening stars are 
no more in the heavens and no more obedient to 
the celestial impulses than the lonely and time- 
scarred world we inhabit. How the planet thrills 
and responds to the heavenly forces and occurrences 
we little know, but we get an inkling of it when we 
see the magnetic needle instantly affected by solar 
disturbances. 

Look under foot. Gold and diamonds and all 

1 An excerpt from a chapter in Leaf and Tendril, 



70 THE DIVINE SOIL 

precious stones come out of the ground; they do 
not drop upon us from the stars, and our highest 
thoughts are in some way a transformation or a 
transmutation of the food we eat. The mean is the 
divine if we make it so. The child surely learns 
that its father and mother are the Santa Claus that 
brought the gifts, though the discovery may bring 
pain; and the man learns to see providence in the 
great universal forces of nature, in the winds and 
the rain, in the soil underfoot and in the cloud over- 
head. What these forces in their orderly rounds 
do not bring him, he does not expect. The farmer 
hangs up his stocking in the way of empty bins and 
barns, and he knows well who or what must fill 
them. The Santa Claus of the merchant, the manu- 
facturer, the inventor, is the forces and conditions all 
about us in every-day operation. When the light- 
ning strikes your building or the trees on your lawn, 
you are at least reminded that you do not live in 
a corner outside of Jove's dominions, you are in 
the circuit of the great forces. If you are eligible 
to bad fortune where you stand, you are equally 
eligible to good fortune there. The young man 
who went West did well, but the young man who had 
the Western spirit and stayed at home did equally 
well. To evoke a spark of fire out of a flint with a 
bit of steel is the same thing as evoking beautiful 
thoughts from homely facts. How hard it is for us 
to see the heroic in an act of our neighbor! 



THE DIVINE SOIL 71 



What a burden science took upon itself when it 
sought to explain the origin of man! Religion or 
theology takes a short cut and makes quick work 
of it by regarding man as the result of the special 
creative act of a supernatural Being. But science 
takes a long and tedious and hazardous way 
around through the lowest primordial forms of life. 
It seeks to trace his germ through the abyss of 
geologic time, where all is dim and mysterious, 
through countless cycles of waiting and prepara- 
tion, where the slow, patient gods of evolution 
cherished it and passed it on, through the fetid 
carbon, through the birth and decay of continents, 
through countless interchanges and readjustments 
of sea and land, through the clash and warring of 
the cosmic forces, through good and evil report, 
through the fish and the reptile, through the ape 
and the orang, up to man — from the slime at the 
bottom of the primordial ocean up to Jesus of Naz- 
areth. Surely one may say with Whitman, — 

"Immense have been the preparations for me, 
Faithful and friendly the arms that have helped me." 

It took about one hundred thousand feet of sed- 
imentary rock, laid down through hundreds of 
millions of years in the bottom of the old seas, all 
probably the leavings of minute forms of life, to 
make a foundation upon which man could appear. 



72 THE DIVINE SOIL 

His origin as revealed by science fills and appalls 
the imagination : as revealed by theology it simply 
baffles and dumfounds one. Science deepens the 
mystery while yet it gives the reason and the imagi- 
nation something to go upon; it takes us beyond 
soundings, but not beyond the assurance that cause 
and effect are still continuous there beneath us. I 
like to think that man has traveled that long, ad- 
venturous road, that the whole creation has pulled 
together to produce him. It is a road, of course, 
beset with pain and anguish, beset with ugly and 
repellent forms, beset with riot and slaughter; it 
leads through jungle and morass, through floods 
and cataclysms, through the hells of the Meso- 
zoic and the Cenozoic periods, but it leads ever 
upward and onward. 

The manward impulse in creation has doubtless 
been checked many times, but never lost ; all forms 
conspired to further it, and it seemed to have taken 
the push and the aspiration out of each order as 
it passed on, dooming it henceforth to a round of 
life without change or hope of progress, leaving 
the fish to continue fish, the reptiles to continue 
reptiles, the apes to continue apes; it took all the 
heart and soul of each to feed and continue the 
central impulse that was to eventuate in man. 

I fail to see why our religious brethren cannot find 
in this history or revelation as much room for crea- 
tive energy, as large a factor of the mysterious and 



THE DIVINE SOIL 73 

superhuman, as in the myth of Genesis. True it is 
that it fixes our attention upon this world and upon 
forces with which we are more or less familiar, but 
it implies an element or a power before which we 
stand helpless and dumb. What fathered this man- 
impulse, what launched this evolutionary process, 
what or who stamped upon the first protoplasm 
the aspiration to be man, and never let that aspira- 
tion sleep through all the tremendous changes of 
those incalculable geologic ages ? What or who first 
planted the seed of the great biological tree, and 
determined all its branchings and the fruit it should 
bear? If you must have a God, either apart from 
or imminent in creation, it seems to me that there 
is as much need of one here as in the Mosaic cos- 
mology. The final mystery cannot be cleared up. 
We can only drive it to cover. How the universe 
came to be what it is, and how man came to be 
man, who can tell us? 

That somewhere in my line of descent was an 
ancestor that lived in trees and had powerful arms 
and weaker legs, that his line began in a creature 
that lived on the ground, and his in one that lived 
in the mud, or in the sea, and his, or its, sprang 
from a germ at the bottom of the sea, but deepens 
the mystery of the being that is now here and can 
look back and speculate over the course he has 
probably come; it only directs attention to ugly 
facts, to material things, to the every-day process 



74 THE DIVINE SOIL 

of evolution, instead of to the far away, the un* 
known, or the supernatural. 

How the organic came to bud and grow from the 
inorganic, who knows ? Yet it must have done so. 
We seem compelled to think of an ascending series 
from nebular matter up to the spirituality of man, 
each stage in the series resting upon or growing 
out of the one beneath it. Creation or develop- 
ment must be continuous. There are and can be 
no breaks. The inorganic is already endowed with 
chemical and molecular life. The whole universe 
is alive, and vibrates with impulses too fine for 
our dull senses; but in chemical affinity, in crys- 
tallization, in the persistence of force, in electri- 
city, we catch glimpses of a kind of vitality that 
is preliminary to all other. I never see fire burn, 
or water flow, or the frost-mark on the pane, 
that I am not reminded of something as myste- 
rious as life. How alive the flame seems, how 
alive the water, how marvelous the arborescent etch- 
ings of the frost! Is there a principle of fire? 
Is there a principle of crystallization? Just as 
much as there is a principle of life. The mind, 
in each case, seems to require something to lay 
hold of as a cause. Why these wonderful star 
forms of the snowflake? Why these exact geo- 
metric forms of quartz crystals ? The gulf between 
disorganized matter and the crystal seems to me 
as great as that between the organic and the inor- 



THE DIVINE SOIL 75 

game. If we did not every day witness the passage, 
we could not believe it. The gulf between the crys- 
tal and the cell we have not seen cleared, and 
man has not yet been able to bridge it, and may 
never be, but it has been bridged, and I dare say 
without any more miracle than hourly goes on 
around us. The production of water from two 
invisible gases is a miracle to me. When water ap- 
peared (what made it appear?) and the first cloud 
floated across the blue sky, life w^as not far off, if 
it was not already there. Some morning in spring 
when the sun shone across the old Azoic hills, at 
some point where the land and sea met, life began 
— the first speck of protoplasm appeared. Call it 
the result of the throb or push of the creative 
energy that pervades all things, and whose action 
is continuous and not intermittent, since we are 
compelled to presuppose such energy to account 
for anything, even our own efforts to account for 
things. An ever active vital force pervades the 
universe, and is felt and seen in all things, from 
atomic attraction and repulsion up to wheeling suns 
and systems. The very processes of thought seem 
to require such premises to go upon. There is a 
reason for the universe as w r e find it, else man's rea- 
son is a delusion, and delusion itself is a meaning- 
less term. The uncaused is unthinkable; thought 
can find neither beginning nor ending to the uni- 
verse because it cannot find the primal cause. Can 



76 THE DIVINE SOIL 

we think of a stick with only one end? We 
have to if we compass time in thought, or space, 
either. 



So far as science can find out, sentience is a pro- 
perty of matter which is evolved under certain 
conditions, and though science itself has not yet 
been able to reproduce these conditions, it still 
believes in the possibility. If life was not poten- 
tial in the inorganic world, how is it possible to 
account for it ? It is not a graft, it is more like a 
begetting. Nature does not work by prefixes and 
suffixes, but by unfolding and ever unfolding, or 
developing out of latent innate powers and possi- 
bilities; — an inward necessity always working, 
but never an external maker. It is no help to fancy 
that life may have been brought to the earth by 
a falling meteorite from some other sphere. How 
did life originate upon that other sphere ? It must 
have started here as surely as fire started here. We 
feign that Prometheus stole the first fire from 
heaven, but it sleeps here all about us, and can be 
evoked any time and anywhere. It sleeps in all 
forms of force. A falling avalanche of rocks turns 
to flame; the meteor in the air becomes a torch; 



THE DIVINE SOIL 77 

the thunderbolt is a huge spark. So life, no doubt, 
slept in the inorganic, and was started by the 
reverse of friction, namely, by brooding. 

When the earth becomes lifeless again, as it surely 
must in time, then the cycle will be repeated, a col- 
lision will develop new energy and new worlds, 
and out of this newness will again come life. 

It is highly probable that a million years elapsed 
between the time when the ancestor of man began 
to assume the human form and the dawn of history. 
Try to think of that time and of the struggle of 
this creature upward; of the pain, the suffering, 
the low bestial life, the warrings, the defeats, the 
slow, infinitely slow gains, of his deadly enemies in 
other animals, of the repeated changes of climate 
of the northern hemisphere from subtropical to 
subarctic — the land at one time for thousands of 
years buried beneath an ice sheet a mile or more 
thick, followed by a cycle of years of almost trop- 
ical w r armth even in Greenland — and all of this 
before man had yet got off of " all fours," and stood 
upright and began to make rude tools and rude 
shelters from the storms. The Tertiary period, early 
in which the first rude ancestor of man seems to 
have appeared, is less than one week of the great 
geologic year of the earth's history — a week of 
about five days. These days the geologists have 
named Eocene, Oligocene, Miocene, Pliocene, and 
Pleistocene, each one of these days covering, no 



78 THE DIVINE SOIL 

doubt, a million years or more. The ancestor of man 
probably took on something like the human form on 
the third, or Miocene, day. The other and earlier 
fifty or more weeks of the great geologic year gradu- 
ally saw the development of the simpler forms of life, 
till we reach the earliest mammals and reptiles in the 
Permian, about the forty-eighth or forty-ninth week 
of the great year. The laying down of the coal mea- 
sures, Huxley thinks, must have taken six millions 
of years. Well, the Lord allowed himself enough 
time. Evidently he was in no hurry to see man cut- 
ting his fantastic tricks here upon the surface of the 
planet. A hundred million years, more or less, what 
of it ? Did the globe have to ripen all those cycles 
upon cycles, like the apple upon the tree ? bask in 
the sidereal currents, work and ferment in the sea 
of the hypothetical ether before the gross matter 
could evolve the higher forms of life ? Probably 
every unicellular organism that lived and died in 
the old seas helped prepare the way for man, 
contributed something to the fund of vital energy 
of the globe upon which man was finally to draw. 

How life has had to adjust itself to the great 
cosmic changes! The delays must have been in- 
calculable. The periodic refrigeration of the north- 
ern hemisphere, which brought on the ice age 
several times during each one of the Eocene and 
Miocene days, must have delayed the development 
of life as we know it, enormously. 



THE DIVINE SOIL 79 



From nebula to nebula — these are the hours 
struck by the clock of eternity : from the dissipation 
of the solar systems into nebular gas by their falling 
together to their condensation again into suns and 
worlds by the action of physical laws — thousands 
of millions of years in each hour, and the hours 
infinite in number. This is a hint of eternity. How 
many times, then, there must have been a world 
like this evolved in the course of this running down 
and winding up of the great clock, with beings like 
these we now behold ! how many such worlds and 
such beings there must now be in the universe, and 
have always been ! Can you think of the number ? 
Not till you can think of infinity. The duration of 
life upon the globe, to say nothing of man's little 
span, is hardly a tick of this clock of eternity, and 
the repetition of the birth and dissipations of sys- 
tems is well symbolized by the endless striking or 
ticking of a clock. 

Then sooner or later comes the thought, What 
is it all for ? and from the great abysm comes back 
the echo, " What for ? " Is it our human limitations, 
the discipline of this earthly life, when we have to 
count the cost and ask what it is for, that makes 
us put the question to the Infinite? When the 
cosmic show is over, what is the gain ? When our 
universe is again a blank, who or what will have 



80 THE DIVINE SOIL 

reaped the benefit ? Will the moral order which has 
been so slowly and painfully evolved, and which so 
many souls have struggled to live up to, still go on ? 
Where ? with whom ? I seem to see dimly that you 
cannot bring the Infinite to book, that you cannot 
ask, " What for ? " of the All, — of that which has 
neither beginning nor end, neither centre nor cir- 
cumference, neither fulfillment nor design, which 
knows neither failure nor success, neither loss nor 
gain, and which is complete in and of itself. 

We are tied to the sphere, its law r s shape our 
minds, we cannot get away from it and see it in 
perspective; away from it there is no direction; at 
either pole on its surface there is the contradiction 
of the sky being always overhead. We are tied to 
the Infinite in the same way. We are part of it, but 
may not measure it. Our boldest thought comes 
back like a projectile fired into the heavens — 
the curve of the infinite sphere holds us. I know 
I am trying to say the unsayable. I would fain 
indicate how human and hopeless is our question, 
" What for ? " when asked of the totality of things. 
There is no totality of things. To say that there is, 
does not express it. To say there is not, does not 
express it. To say that the universe was created, 
does not express the mystery; to say that it was 
not created, but always existed, does not express 
it any nearer. To say that the heavens are over- 
head is only half the truth ; they are underfoot also. 



THE DIVINE SOIL 81 

Down is toward the centre of the earth, but go on 
through and come out at the surface on the other 
side, and which way is down then? 

The Unspeakable will not be spoken. 

In the light of science we must see that life and 
progress and evolution and the moral order must 
go on and on somewhere, that the birth of systems 
and the evolution of planets must and does con- 
tinue, and always has continued; that if one sun 
fades, another blazes out; that as there must have 
been an infinite number (how can there be an in- 
finite number? where is the end of the endless?) 
of worlds in the past, so there will be an infinite 
number in the future; that if the moral order and 
the mathematical order and the intellectual order 
disappear from one planet, they will appear in due 
time on another. 

All that which in our limited view of nature we 
call waste and delay — how can such terms apply 
to the Infinite? Can we ever speak truly of the 
Infinite in terms of the finite ? To be sure, we have 
no other terms, and can never have. Then let us 
be silent and — reverent 



STYLE AND THE MAN 1 

THE difference between a precious stone and a 
common stone is not an essential difference — 
not a difference of substance, but of arrangement of 
the particles — the crystallization. In substance 
charcoal and the diamond are one, but in form and 
effect how widely they differ. The pearl contains 
nothing that is not found in the coarsest oyster shell. 

Two men have the same thoughts ; they use about 
the same words in expressing them; yet with one 
the product is real literature, with the other it is a 
platitude. 

The difference is all in the presentation; a finer 
and more compendious process has gone on in the 
one case than in the other. The elements are better 
fused and welded together; they are in some way 
heightened and intensified. Is not here a clue to 
what we mean by style ? Style transforms common 
quartz into an Egyptian pebble. We are apt to think 
of style as something external, that can be put on, 
something in and of itself. But it is not; it is in the 

1 An excerpt from a chapter in Literary Values, 



STYLE AND THE MAN 83 

inmost texture of the substance. Choice words, 
faultless rhetoric, polished periods, are only the acci- 
dents of style. Indeed, perfect workmanship is one 
thing ; style, as the great writers have it, is quite 
another. It may, and often does, go with faulty 
workmanship. It is the use of words in a fresh and 
vital way, so as to give us a vivid sense of a new 
spiritual force and personality. In the best work the 
style is found and hidden in the matter. 

If a writer does not bring a new thought, he must 
at least bring a new quality, — he must give a fresh, 
new flavor to the old thoughts. Style or quality will 
keep a man's work alive whose thought is essentially 
commonplace, as is the case with Addison ; and Ar- 
nold justly observes of the poet Gray that his gift 
of style doubles his force and u raises him to a rank 
beyond what his natural richness and power seem to 
warrant." 

There is the correct, conventional, respectable and 
scholarly use of language of the mass of writers, and 
there is the fresh, stimulating, quickening use of 
it of the man of genius. How apt and racy and tell- 
ing is often the language of unlettered persons ; the 
born writer carries this same gift into a higher 
sphere. There is a passage in one of Emerson's 
early letters, written when he was but twenty-four, 
and given by Mr. Cabot in his Memoir, which shows 
how clearly at that age Emerson discerned the secret 
of good writing and good preaching. 



84 STYLE AND THE MAN 

ft I preach half of every Sunday. When I attended 
church on the other half of a Sunday, and the image 
in the pulpit was all of clay, and not of tunable 
metal, I said to myself that if men would avoid that 
general language and general manner in which they 
strive to hide all that is peculiar, and would say only 
what is uppermost in their own minds, after their 
own individual manner, every man would be inter- 
esting. . . . But whatever properties a man of nar- 
row intellect feels to be peculiar he studiously hides ; 
he is ashamed or afraid of himself, and all his com- 
munications to men are unskillful plagiarisms from 
the common stock of thought and knowledge, and 
he is of course flat and tiresome." 

The great mass of the writing and sermonizing of 
any age is of the kind here indicated ; it is the result 
of the machinery of culture and of books and the 
schools put into successful operation. But now and 
then a man appears whose writing is vital ; his page 
may be homely, but it is alive; it is full of personal 
magnetism. The writer does not merely give us 
what he thinks or knows ; he gives us himself. There 
is nothing secondary or artificial between himself 
and his reader. It is books of this kind that man- 
kind does not willingly let die. Some minds are like 
an open fire, — how direct and instant our com- 
munication with them ; how they interest us ; there 
are no screens or disguises ; we see and feel the vital 
play of their thought; we are face to face with their 



STYLE AND THE MAN 85 

spirits. Indeed all good literature, whether poetry 
or prose, is the open fire; there is directness, reality, 
charm; we get something at first-hand that warms 
and stimulates. 

In literature proper our interest, I think, is always 
in the writer himself, — his quality, his personality, 
his point of view. We may fancy that we care only 
for the subject-matter; but the born writer makes 
any subject interesting to us by his treatment of it 
or by the personal element he infuses into it. When 
our concern is primarily with the subject-matter, 
with the fact or the argument, or with the informa- 
tion conveyed, then we are not dealing with literature 
in the strict sense. It is not so much what the writer 
tells us that makes literature, as the way he tells 
it ; or rather, it is the degree in which he imparts to 
it some rare personal quality or charm that is the gift 
of his own spirit, something which cannot be de- 
tached from the work itself, and which is as inherent 
as the sheen of a bird's plumage, as the texture of 
a flower's petal. There is this analogy in nature. 
The hive bee does not get honey from the flowers; 
honey is a product of the bee. What she gets from 
the flowers is mainly sweet water or nectar; this she 
puts through a process of her own, and to it adds a 
minute drop of her own secretion, formic acid. It 
is her special personal contribution that converts the 
nectar into honey. 

In the work of the literary artist, common facts 



86 STYLE AND THE MAN 

and experiences are changed and heightened in the 
same way. Sainte-Beuve, speaking of certain parts 
of Rousseau's " Confessions," says, " Such pages 
were, in French literature, the discovery of a new 
world, a world of sunshine and of freshness, which 
men had near them without having perceived it." 
They had not perceived it because they had not had 
Rousseau's mind to mirror it for them. The sunshine 
and the freshness were a gift of his spirit. The new 
world was the old world in a new light. What 
charmed them was a quality personal to Rousseau. 
Nature they had always had, but not the Rousseau 
sensibility to nature. The same may be said of more 
recent writers upon outdoor themes. Readers fancy 
that in the works of Thoreau or of Jeff eries some new 
charm or quality of nature is disclosed, that some- 
thing hidden in field or wood is brought to light. 
They do not see that what they are in love with is 
the mind or spirit of the writer himself. Thoreau 
does not interpret nature, but nature interprets him. 
The new thing disclosed in bird and flower is simply 
a new sensibility to these objects in the beholder. 
In morals and ethics the same thing is true. Let 
an essayist like Dr. Johnson or Arthur Helps state a 
principle or an idea and it has a certain value; let 
an essayist like Ruskin or Emerson or Carlyle state 
the same principle and it has an entirely different 
value, makes an entirely different impression, — the 
qualities of mind and character of these writers are 



STYLE AND THE MAN 87 

so different. The reader's relation with them is 
much more intimate and personal. 

It is quality of mind which makes the writings 
of Burke rank above those of Gladstone, Ruskin's 
criticism above that of Hamerton, Froude's histories 
above Freeman's, Renan's "Life of Jesus" above 
that of Strauss; which makes the pages of Goethe, 
Coleridge, Lamb, literature in a sense that the works 
of many able minds are not. These men impart 
something personal and distinctive to the language 
they use. They make the words their own. The 
literary quality is not something put on. It is not 
of the hand, it is of the mind; it is not of the mind, 
but of the soul; it is of whatever is most vital and 
characteristic in the writer. It is confined to no 
particular manner and to no particular matter. It 
may be the gift of writers of widely different man- 
ners — of Carlyle as well as of Arnold ; and in men 
of similar manners, one may have it and the other 
may not. It is as subtle as the tone of the voice or 
the glance of the eye. Quality is the one thing in 
life that cannot be analyzed, and it is the one thing 
in art that cannot be imitated. A man's manner 
may be copied, but his style, his charm, his real 
value, can only be parodied. In the conscious or 
unconscious imitations of the major poets by the 
minor, we get only a suggestion of the manner of 
the former; their essential quality cannot be repro- 
duced. 



88 STYLE AND THE MAN 

English literature is full of imitations of the Greek 
poets, but that which the Greek poets did not and 
could not borrow they cannot lend; their quality 
stays with them. The charm of spoken discourse 
is largely in the personal quality of the speaker — 
something intangible to print. When we see the 
thing in print, we wonder how it could so have 
charmed or moved us. To convey this charm, this 
aroma of the man, to the written discourse is the 
triumph of style. A recent French critic says of 
Madame de Stael that she had no style; she wrote 
just as she thought, but without being able to impart 
to her writing the living quality of her speech. It 
is not importance of subject-matter that makes a 
work great, but importance of the subjectivity of 
the w r riter, — a great mind, a great soul, a great per- 
sonality. A work that bears the imprint of these, 
that is charged with the life and power of these, 
which it gives forth again under pressure, is alone 
entitled to high rank. 

All pure literature is the revelation of a man. In 
a work of true literary art the subject-matter has 
been so interpenetrated and vitalized by the spirit 
or personality of the writer, has become so thor- 
oughly identified with it, that the two are one and 
inseparable, and the style is the man. Works in 
which this blending and identification, through emo- 
tion or imagination, of the author with his subject 
has not taken place, or has taken place imperfectly, 



STYLE AND THE MAN 89 

do not belong to pure literature. They may serve a 
Useful purpose; but all useful purposes, in the strict 
sense, are foreign to those of art, which means for- 
eign to the spirit that would live in the whole, that 
would live in the years and not in the days, in time 
and not in the hour. The true literary artist gives 
you of the substance of his mind; not merely his 
thought or his philosophy, but something more inti- 
mate and personal than that. It is not a tangible 
object passed from his hand to yours; it is much 
more like a transfusion of blood from his veins to 
yours. Montaigne gives us Montaigne, — the most 
delightfully garrulous man in literature. u These are 
fancies of my own," he says, "by which I do not 
pretend to discover things, but to lay open myself." 
"Cut these sentences," says Emerson, "and they 
bleed." Matthew Arnold denied that Emerson was 
a great writer; but we cannot account for the charm 
and influence of his works, it seems to me, on any 
other theory than that he has at least this mark of 
the great writer: he gives his reader of his own sub- 
stance, he saturates his page with the high and rare 
quality of his own spirit. Everything he published 
has a distinct literary value, as distinguished from 
its moral or religious value. The same may be said 
of Arnold himself: else w r e should not care much 
for him. It is a particular and interesting type of 
man that speaks and breathes in every sentence; 
his style is vital in his matter, and is no more sepa- 



90 STYLE AND THE MAN 

rable from it than the style of silver or of gold is 
separable from those metals. 

In such a writer as Lecky on the other hand, or 
as Mill or Spencer, one does not get this same subtle 
individual flavor; the work is more external, more 
the product of certain special faculties, as the rea- 
son, the memory, the understanding; and the per- 
sonality of the author is not so intimately involved. 
But in the writer with the creative touch, whether 
he be poet, novelist, historian, critic, essayist, the 
chief factor in the product is always his own per- 
sonality. 

Style, then, in the sense in which I am here using 
the term, implies that vital, intimate, personal rela- 
tion of the man to his language by which he makes 
the words his own, fills them with his ow T n quality, 
and gives the reader that lively sense of being in 
direct communication with a living, breathing, men- 
tal and spiritual force. The w r riter w T ho appears to 
wield his language as an instrument or a tool, some- 
thing exterior to himself, who makes you conscious 
of his vocabulary, or whose words are the garments 
and not the tissue of his thought, has not style in 
this sense. "Style," says Schopenhauer, "is the 
physiognomy of the mind, and a safer index to char- 
acter than the face." This definition is as good as 
any, and better than most, because it implies that 
identification of words with thoughts, of the man 
with his subject, which is the secret of a living style. 



STYLE AND THE MAN 91 

Hence the man who imitates another wears a mask, 
as does the man who writes in a language to which 
he was not born. 



It has been said that novel-writing is a much 
finer art in our day than it was in the time of Scott, 
or of Dickens and Thackeray, — finer, I think, be- 
cause it is in the hands of finer-strung, more dain- 
tily equipped men; but would one dare to say it is 
a greater art ? One may admit all that is charged 
about Scott's want of style, his diffuseness and cum- 
brousness, and his tedious descriptions, and still 
justly claim for him the highest literary honors. He 
was a great nature, as Goethe said, and we come into 
vital contact with that great nature in his romances. 
He was not deficient in the larger art that knows 
how to make a bygone age live again to the imagina- 
tion. He himself seems to have deprecated his " big 
bow-wow" style in comparison with the exquisite 
touches of Jane Austen. But no fineness of work- 
manship, no deftness of handling, can make up for 
the want of a large, rich, copious human endowment. 
I think we need to remember this when we compare 
unfavorably such men as Dickens and Thackeray 
with the cleverer artists of our own day. Scott makes 
up to us for his deficiencies in the matter of style 
by the surpassing human interest of his characters 
and incidents, their relations to the major currents 



92 STYLE AND THE MAN 

of human life. His scenes fill the stage of history, 
his personages seem adequate to great events, and 
the whole story has a certain historic grandeur and 
impressiveness. There is no mistaking a great force, 
a great body, in literature any more than there is in 
the physical world; in Scott we have come upon a 
great river, a great lake, a great mountain, and we 
are more impressed by it than by the lesser bodies, 
though they have many more graces and pretti- 
nesses. 

Frederic Harrison, in a recent address on style, is 
cautious in recommending the young writer to take 
thought of his style. Let him rather take thought 
of what he has to say; in turning his ideal values 
into the coin of current speech he will have an ex- 
ercise in style. If he has no ideal values, then is lit- 
erature barred to him. Let him cultivate his sen- 
sibilities ; make himself, if possible, more quickly 
responsive to life and nature about him ; let him try 
to see more clearly and feel more keenly, and con- 
nect his vocabulary with his most radical and spon- 
taneous self. Style can never come from the outside, 
— from consciously seeking it by imitating the 
manner of favorite authors. It comes, if at all, like 
the bloom upon fruit, or the glow of health upon 
the cheek, from an inner essential harmony and 
felicity. 

In a well-known passage Macaulay tells what 
happened to Miss Burney when she began to think 



STYLE AND THE MAN 93 

about her style, and fell to imitating Dr. Johnson; 
how she lost the "charming vivacity" and "per- 
fectly natural unconsciousness of manner" of her 
youthful writings, and became modish and affected. 
She threw away her own style, which was a " toler- 
ably good one," and which might " have been im- 
proved into a very good one," and adopted " a style 
in which she could attain excellence only by achiev- 
ing an almost miraculous victory over nature and 
over habit. She could cease to be Fanny Burney; 
it was not so easy to become Samuel Johnson." 

It is giving too much thought to style in the more 
external and verbal aspects of it, which I am here 
considering, that leads to the confounding of style 
with diction, and that gives rise to the " stylist." 
The stylist shows you what can be done with mere 
words. He is the foliage plant of the literary flower 
garden. An English college professor has recently 
exploited him in a highly wrought essay on Style. 
Says our professor, " The business of letters is two- 
fold, to find words for meaning and to find meaning 
for words." It strikes me that the last half of this 
proposition is not true of the serious writer, of the 
man who has something to say, but is true only of 
what is called the stylist, the man who has been so 
often described as one having nothing to say, which 
he says extremely well. The stylist's main effort 
is a verbal one, to find meaning for words; he does 
not wrestle with ideas, but with terms and phrases; 



94 STYLE AND THE MAN 

his thoughts are word-begotten and are often as un- 
substantial as spectres and shadows. 

The stylist cultivates words as the florist culti- 
vates flowers, and a new adjective or a new colloca- 
tion of terms is to him what a new chrysanthemum 
or a new pansy is to his brother of the forcing house. 
He is more an European product than an American. 
London and Paris abound in men who cultivate the 
art of expression for its own sake, who study how to 
combine words so as to tickle the verbal sense with- 
out much reference to the value of the idea expressed. 
Club and university life, excessive library culture — 
a sort of indoor or hothouse literary atmosphere 
— foster this sort of thing. 

French literature can probably show more stylists 
than English, but the later school of British writers 
is not far behind in the matter of studied expression. 
Professor Raleigh, from whose work on style I 
quoted above, often writes forcibly and suggestively; 
but one cannot help but feel, on finishing his little 
volume, that it is more the work of a stylist than of a 
thinker. This is the opening sentence: "Style, the 
Latin name for an iron pen, has come to designate 
the art that handles, with ever fresh vitality and 
war} 7 alacrity, the fluid elements of speech." Does 
not one faintly scent the stylist at the start ? Later 
on he says : " In proportion as a phrase is memor- 
able, the words that compose it become mutually 
adhesive, losing for a time something of their in- 



STYLE AND THE MAN 95 

dividual scope, — bringing with them, if they be 
torn away too quickly, some cumbrous fragments 
of their recent association." Does not the stylist 
stand fully confessed here? That he may avoid 
these " cumbrous fragments " that will stick to words 
when you suddenly pull them up by the roots, "a 
sensitive writer is often put to his shifts, and extorts, 
if he be fortunate, a triumph from the accident of 
his encumbrance." The lust of expression, the con- 
juring with mere words, is evident. " He is a poor 
stylist," says our professor, "who cannot beg half a 
dozen questions in a single epithet, or state the con- 
clusion he would fain avoid in terms that startle the 
senses into clamorous revolt." 

What it is in one that starts into " clamorous re- 
volt" at such verbal gymnastics as are shown in 
the following sentences I shall not try to define, but 
it seems to me it is something real and legitimate. 
"A slight technical implication, a faint tinge of 
archaism in the common turn of speech that you em- 
ploy, and in a moment you have shaken off the mob 
that scours the rutted highway, and are addressing a 
select audience of ticket holders with closed doors. 
A single natural phrase of peasant speech, a direct 
physical sense given to a word that genteel parlance 
authorizes readily enough in its metaphorical sense, 
and at a touch you have blown the roof off the draw- 
ing-room of the villa and have set its obscure inhab- 
itants wriggling in the unaccustomed sunshine." 



96 STYLE AND THE MAN 

Amiel says of Renan that science was his material 
rather than his object; his object was style. Yet 
Renan was not a stylist in the sense in which I am 
using the word. His main effort was never a ver- 
bal one, never an effort to find meaning for words ; 
he was intent upon his subject; his style was vital 
in his thought, and never took on airs on its own 
account. You cannot in him separate the artist from 
the thinker, nor give either the precedence. All 
writers with whom literature is an art aim at style 
in the sense that they aim to present their subject in 
the most effective form, — with clearness, freshness, 
force. They become stylists when their thoughts 
wait upon their words, or when their thoughts are 
word-begotten. Such writers as Gibbon, De Quin- 
cey, Macaulay, have studied and elaborate styles, 
but in each the matter is paramount and the mind 
finds something solid to rest upon. 

"The chief of the incommodities imposed upon 
the writer," says Professor Raleigh, is "the neces- 
sity at all times and at all costs to mean something," 
or to find meaning for words. This no doubt is a 
hard task. The trouble begins when one has the 
words first. To invoke ideas with w r ords is a much 
more difficult experience than the reverse process. 
But probably all true writers have something to say 
before they have the desire to say it, and in propor- 
tion as the thought is vital and real is its expression 
easy. 



STYLE AND THE MAN 97 

When I meet the stylist, with his straining for ver- 
bal effects, I love to recall this passage from Whit- 
man. " The great poet," he says, " swears to his art, 
I will not be meddlesome. I will not have in my 
writing any elegance or effect or originality to hang 
in the way between me and the rest, like curtains. I 
will have nothing hang in the way, not the richest 
curtains. What I tell I tell for precisely what it is. 
Let who may, exalt or startle or fascinate or soothe ; I 
will have purpose, as health or heat or snow has, and 
be as regardless of observation. What I experience 
or portray shall go from my composition without a 
shred of my composition. You shall stand by my 
side and look in the mirror with me." 

This is the same as saying that the great success 
in writing is to get language out of the way and to 
put your mind directly to the reader's, so that there 
be no veil of words between you. If the reader is 
preoccupied with your words, if they court his at- 
tention or cloud his vision, to that extent is the 
communication imperfect. In some of Swinburne'.s 
poems there is often such a din and echo of rhyme 
and alliteration that it is almost impossible to hear 
what the man is really saying. 

To darken counsel with words is a common oc- 
currence. Words are like lenses, — they must be 
arranged in just such a way, or they hinder rather 
than help the vision. When the adjustment is as it 
should be, the lens itself is invisible ; and language in 



98 STYLE AND THE MAN 

the hands of the master is as transparent. Some of 
the more recent British poets affect the archaic, the 
quaint, the eccentric, in language, so that one's at- 
tention is almost entirely occupied with their words. 
Reading them is like trying to look through a pair 
of spectacles too old or too young for you, or with 
lenses of different focus. 

But has not style a value in and of itself ? As in 
the case of light, its value is in the revelation it 
makes. Its value is to conceal itself, to lose itself in 
the matter. If humility, or self-denial, or any of the 
virtues becomes conscious of itself and claims credit 
for its own sake, does it not that moment fall from 
grace ? What incomparable style in the passage I 
have quoted from Whitman when we come to think 
of it, but how it effaces itself and is of no account 
for the sake of the idea it serves! The more a 
writer's style humbles itself, the more it is exalted. 
There is nothing true in religion that is not equally 
true in art. Give yourself entirely. All selfish and 
secondary ends are of the devil. Our Calvinistic 
grandfathers, who fancied themselves willing to be 
damned for the glory of God, illustrate the devotion 
of the true artist to his ideal. " Consider the lilies 
of the field, . . . they toil not, neither do they 
spin." The style of the born poet or artist takes 
as little thought of itself, and is the spontaneous 
expression of the same indwelling grace and neces- 
sity. 



STYLE AND THE MAN 99 

There are as many styles as there are moods and 
tempers in men. Words may be used so as to give 
us a sense of vigor, a sense of freshness, a sense of 
the choice and scholarly, or of the dainty and exclu- 
sive, or of the polished and elaborate, or of heat or 
cold, or of any other quality known to life. Every 
work of genius has its own physiognomy — sad, 
cheerful, frowning, yearning, determined, medita- 
tive. This book has the face of a saint; that of a 
scholar or a seer. Here is the feminine, there the 
masculine face. One has the clerical face, one the 
judicial. Each appeals to us according to our tem- 
peraments and mental predilections. Who shall say 
which style is the best? What can be better than 
the style of Huxley for his purpose, — sentences 
level and straight like a hurled lance; or than Emer- 
son's for his purpose, — electric sparks, the sudden, 
unexpected epithet or tense, audacious phrase, that 
gives the mind a wholesome shock; or than Gibbon's 
for his purpose, — a style like solid masonry, every 
sentence cut four square, and his work, as Carlyle 
said to Emerson, a splendid bridge, connecting the 
ancient world with the modern; or than De Quin- 
cey's for his purpose, — a discursive, roundabout 
style, herding his thoughts as a collie dog herds 
sheep; or than Arnold's for his academic spirit, — a 
style like cut glass; or than Whitman's for his con- 
tinental spirit, — the processional, panoramic style 



100 STYLE AND THE MAN 

that gives the sense of mass and multitude? Certain 
things we may demand of every man's style, — that 
it shall do its work, that it shall touch the quick. To 
be colorless like Arnold is good, and to have color 
like Ruskin is good; to be lofty and austere like the 
old Latin and Greek authors is good, and to be play- 
ful and discursive like Dr. Holmes is good; to be 
condensed and epigrammatic like Bacon pleases, 
and to be flowing and copious like Macaulay pleases. 
Within certain limits the manner that is native to 
the man, the style that is a part of himself, is what 
wears best. What we do not want in any style is 
hardness, glitter, tumidity, superfetation, unreality. 
In treating of nature or outdoor themes, let the 
style have limpidness, sweetness, freshness; in criti- 
cism let it have dignity, lucidity, penetration; in 
history let it have mass, sweep, comprehension; in 
all things let it have vitality, sincerity, and genuine- 
ness. 



SUGGESTIVENESS l 

THERE is a quality that adheres to one man's 
writing or speaking, and not to another's, that 
we call suggestiveness, — something that warms and 
stimulates the mind of the reader or hearer, quite 
apart from the amount of truth or information di- 
rectly conveyed. 

It is a precious literary quality, not easy of defini- 
tion or description. It involves quality of mind, 
mental and moral atmosphere, points of view, and 
maybe, racial elements. Not every page or every 
book carries latent meaning; rarely does any sen- 
tence of a writer float deeper than it shows. 

Thus, of the great writers of English literature, 
Dr. Johnson is, to me, the least suggestive, while 
Bacon is one of the most suggestive. Hawthorne is 
undoubtedly the most suggestive of our romancers; 
he has the most atmosphere and the widest and most 
alluring horizon. Emerson is the most suggestive of 
our essayists, because he has the deepest ethical and 
prophetic background. His page is full of moral 
electricity, so to speak, which begets a state of elec- 
tric excitement in his reader's mind. Whitman is the 

1 From Literary Values. 



102 SUGGESTIVENESS 

most suggestive of our poets ; he elaborates the least 
and gives us in profusion the buds and germs of 
poetry. A musical composer once said to me that 
Whitman stimulated him more than Tennyson, be- 
cause he left more for him to do, — he abounded in 
hints and possibilities that the musician's mind 
eagerly seized. 

This quality is not related to ambiguity of phrase 
or to cryptic language or to vagueness and obscurity. 
It goes, or may go, with perfect lucidity, as in Mat- 
thew Arnold at his best, while it is rarely present in 
the pages of Herbert Spencer. Spencer has great 
clearness and compass, but there is nothing resonant 
in his style, — nothing that stimulates the imagina- 
tion. He is a great w r orkman, but the metal he works 
in is not of the kind called precious. 

The late roundabout and enigmatical style of 
Henry James is far less fruitful in his readers' minds 
than his earlier and more direct one, or than the 
limpid style of his compeer, Mr. Ho wells. The 
indirect and elliptical method may undoubtedly be 
so used a^ to stimulate the mind ; at the same time 
there may be a kind of inconclusiveness and beating 
around the bush that is barren and wearisome. Upon 
the page of the great novelist there fall, more or less 
distinct, all the colors of the spectrum of human 
life; but Mr. James in his later works seems intent 
only upon the invisible rays of the spectrum, and his 
readers grope in the darkness accordingly. 



SUGGESTIVENESS 103 

In the world of experience and observation the 
suggestiveness of things is enhanced by veils, con- 
cealments, half lights, flowing lines. The twilight 
is more suggestive than the glare of noonday, a roll- 
ing field than a lawn, a winding road than a straight 
one. In literature perspective, indirection, under- 
statement, side glimpses, have equal value; a vocab- 
ulary that is warm from the experience of the writer, 
sentences that start a multitude of images, that 
abound in the concrete and the specific, that shun 
vague generalities, — with these goes the power of 
suggestiveness. 

Beginnings, outlines, summaries, are suggestive, 
while the elaborated, the highly wrought, the per- 
fected afford us a different kind of pleasure. The 
art that fills and satisfies us has one excellence, and 
the art that stimulates and makes us ahungry has 
another. All beginnings in nature afford us a pe- 
culiar pleasure. The early spring with its hints and 
dim prophecies, the first earth odors, the first robin 
or song sparrow, the first furrow, the first tender 
skies, the first rainbow, the first wild flower, the 
dropping bud scales, the awakening voices in the 
marshes, — all these things touch and move us in 
a way that later developments in the season do not. 
What meaning, too, in the sunrise and the sunset, 
in the night with its stars, the sea with its tides and 
currents, the morning with its dews, autumn with 
its bounty, winter with its snows, the desert with its 



104 SUGGESTIVENESS 

sands, — in everything in the germ and in the bud, 
■ — in parasites, suckers, blights, in floods, tempests, 
droughts! The winged seeds carry thoughts, the 
falling leaves make us pause, the clinging burrs have 
a tongue, the pollen dust, not less than meteoric dust, 
conveys a hint of the method of nature. 

Some things and events in our daily experience are 
more typical, and therefore more suggestive, than 
others. Thus the sower striding across the ploughed 
field is a walking allegory, or parable. Indeed the 
whole life of the husbandman, — his first-hand rela- 
tion to things, his ploughing, his planting, his fer- 
tilizing, his draining, his pruning, his grafting, his 
uprootings, his harvestings, his separating of the 
wheat from the chaff, and the tares from the wheat, 
his fencing his field with the stones and boulders 
that hindered his plough or cumbered his sward, his 
making the wilderness blossom as the rose, — all 
these things are pleasant to contemplate because in 
them there is a story within a story, we translate 
the facts into higher truths. 

In like manner, the shepherd with his flocks, the 
seaman with his compass and rudder, the potter with 
his clay, the weaver with his warp and woof, the 
sculptor with his marble, the painter with his can- 
vas and pigments, the builder with his plans and 
scaffoldings, the chemist with his solvents and pre- 
cipitants, the surgeon with his scalpel and antisep- 
tics, the lawyer with his briefs, the preacher with 



SUGGESTIVENESS 105 

his text, the fisherman with his nets, — all are more 
or less symbolical and appeal to the imagination. 

In both prose and poetry, there is the suggestive- 
ness of language used in a vivid, imaginative way, 
and the suggestiveness of words redolent of human 
association, words of deep import, as friend, home, 
love, marriage. 

To me Shakespeare's sonnets are the most sugges- 
tive sonnets in the language, because they so abound 
in words, images, allusions drawn from real life; 
they are the product of a mind vividly acted upon 
by near-by things, that uses language steeped in the 
common experience of mankind. The poet drew his 
material not from the strange and the remote, but, 
as it were, from the gardens and thoroughfares of 
life. Does not that poetry or prose work touch us 
the most nearly that deals with that with which we 
are most familiar? One thing that separates the 
minor poet from the major is that the thoughts and 
words of the minor poet are more of the nature of 
asides, or of the exceptional; he does not take in the 
common and universal ; we are not familiar with the 
points of view that so agitate him; and he has not 
the power to make them real to us. I read poems 
every day that provoke the thought, u Well, that is 
all news to me. I do not know that heaven or that 
earth, those men or those women," — all is so shad- 
owy, fantastic, and unreal. But when you enter the 
world of the great poets you find yourself upon solid 



106 SUGGESTIVENESS 

ground; the sky and the earth, and the things in 
them and upon them, are what you have always 
known, and not for a moment are you called upon to 
breathe in a vacuum, or to reverse your upright posi- 
tion to see the landscape. Dante even makes hell 
as tangible and real as the objects of our senses, if 
not more so. 

Then there is the suggestiveness or kindling power 
of pregnant, compact sentences, — type thoughts, 
compendious phrases, — vital distinctions or gen- 
eralizations, such as we find scattered through litera- 
ture, as when De Quincey says of the Roman that 
he was great in the presence of man, never in the 
presence of nature; or his distinction between the 
literature of power and the literature of knowledge, 
or similar illuminating distinctions in the prose of 
Wordsworth, Coleridge, Carlyle, Arnold, Goethe, 
Lessing. Arnold's dictum that poetry is a criticism 
of life, is suggestive, because it sets you thinking to 
verify or to disprove it. John Stuart Mill was not 
what one would call a suggestive writer, yet the fol- 
lowing sentence, which Mr. Augustine Birrell has 
lately made use of, makes a decided ripple in one's 
mind : " I have learnt from experience that many 
false opinions may be exchanged for true ones with- 
out in the least altering the habits of mind of which 
false opinions are the result." In a new home writer 
whose first books are but a year or two old, I find 
deeply suggestive sentences on nearly every page. 



SUGGESTIVENESS 107 

Here are two or three of them: "In your inmost 
soul you are as well suited to the whole cosmical 
order and every part of it as to your own body. You 
belong here. Did you suppose that you belonged to 
some other world than this, or that you belonged 
nowhere at all, just a waif on the bosom of the eter- 
nities ? . . . Conceivably He might have flung you 
into a world that was unrelated to you, and might 
have left you to be acclimated at your own risk; 
but you happen to know that this is not the case. 
You have lived here always; this is the ancestral 
demesne; for ages and ages you have looked out of 
these same windows upon the celestial landscape 
and the star-deeps. You are at home." "How per- 
verse and pathetic the desires of the animals! But 
they all get what they ask for, — long necks and 
trunks, flapping ears and branching horns and cor- 
rugated hides, anything, if only they will believe in 
life and try." * 

The intuitional and affirmative writers, to which 
class our new author belongs, and the most notable 
example of which, in this country, was Emerson, 
are, as a rule, more suggestive than the clearly de- 
monstrating and logical writers. A challenge to the 
soul seems to mean more than an appeal to the 
reason; an audacious affirmation often irradiates 
the mind in a way that a logical sequence of thought 
does not. Science rarely suggests more than it says; 
1 The Religion of Democracy. By Charles Ferguson. 



108 SUGGESTIVENESS 

but in the hands of an imaginative man like Maeter- 
linck a certain order of facts in natural history 
becomes fraught with deepest meaning, as may 
be witnessed in his wonderful "Life of the Bee," 
— one of the most enchanting and poetic contribu- 
tions to natural history ever made. Darwin's work 
upon the earthworm, and upon the cross fertiliza- 
tion of flowers, in the same way seems to convey 
more truth to the reader than is warranted by the 
subject. 

The writer who can touch the imagination has 
the key, at least one key, to suggestiveness. This 
power often goes with a certain vagueness and in** 
definiteness, as in the oft-quoted lines from one of 
Shakespeare's sonnets : — 

"the prophetic soul 
Of the wide world dreaming on things to come ; " 

a very suggestive, but not a clearly intelligible pas- 
sage. 

Truth at the centre, straightly put, excites the 
mind in one way, and truth at the surface, or at the 
periphery of the circle, indirectly put, excites it in 
another way and for other reasons; just as a light 
in a dark place, which illuminates, appeals to the 
eye in a different way from the light of day falling 
through vapors or colored glass, wherein objects 
become softened and illusory. 

A common word may be so used as to have an 



SUGGESTIVENESS 109 

unexpected richness of meaning, as when Coleridge 
speaks of those books that " find " us ; or Shake- 
speare of the " marriage of true minds," or Whitman 
of the autumn apple hanging "indolent-ripe" on 
the tree. Probably that language is the most sug- 
gestive that is the most concrete, that is drawn most 
largely from the experience of life, that savors of 
real things. The Saxon English of Walton or Bar- 
row is more suggestive than the latinized English of 
Johnson or Gibbon. 

Indeed, the quality I am speaking of is quite 
exceptional in the eighteenth-century writers. It is 
much more abundant in the writers of the seven- 
teenth century. It goes much more with the vernacu- 
lar style, the homely style, than with the polished 
academic style. 

With the stream of English literature of the nine- 
teenth century has mingled a current of German 
thought and mysticism, and this has greatly height- 
ened its power of suggestiveness both in poetry and 
in prose. It is not in Byron or Scott or Campbell 
or Moore or Macaulay or Irving, but it is in Words- 
worth and Coleridge and Landor and Carlyle and 
Ruskin and Blake and Tennyson and Browning and 
Emerson and Whitman, — a depth and richness of 
spiritual and emotional background that the wits of 
Pope's and Johnson's times knew not of. It seems 
as if the subconscious self played a much greater 
part in the literature of the nineteenth century than 



110 SUGGESTIVENESS 

of the eighteenth, probably because this term has 
been recently added to our psychology. 

As a rule it may be said that the more a writer 
condenses, the more suggestive his work will be. 
There is a sort of mechanical equivalent between 
the force expended in compacting a sentence and the 
force or stimulus it imparts again to the reader's 
mind. A diffuse writer is rarely or never a sug- 
gestive one. Poetry is, or should be, more sugges- 
tive than prose, because it is the result of a more 
compendious and sublimating process. The mind 
of the poet is more tense, he uses language under 
greater pressure of emotion than the prose writer, 
whose medium of expression gives his mind more 
play-room. The poet often succeeds in focusing 
his meaning or emotion in a single epithet, and 
he alone gives us the resounding, unforgettable 
line. There are pregnant sentences in all the great 
prose writers ; there are immortal lines only in the 
poets. 

Whitman said the word he would himself use as 
most truly descriptive of his " Leaves of Grass " 
was the word suggestiveness. " I round and finish 
little, if anything; and could not consistently with 
my scheme. The reader will always have his or her 
part to do, just as much as I have had mine. I seek 
less to state or display my theme or thought, and 
more to bring you, reader, into the atmosphere of 
the theme or thought — there to pursue your own 



SUGGESTIVENESS 111 

flight." These sentences themselves are suggestive, 
because they bring before the mind a variety of 
definite actions, as finishing a thing, displaying a 
thing, doing your part, pursuing your own flight, 
and yet the idea conveyed has a certain subtlety and 
elusiveness. The suggestiveness of his work as a 
whole probably lies in its blending of realism and 
mysticism, and in the art of it running parallel to or 
in some way tallying with the laws and processes of 
nature. It stimulates thought and criticism as few 
modern works do. 

Of course the suggestiveness of any work — poem, 
picture, novel, essay — depends largely upon what 
we bring to it; whether we bring a kindred spirit 
or an alien one, a full mind or an empty one, an alert 
sense or a dull one. If you have been there, so to 
speak, if you have passed through the experience 
described, if you have known the people portrayed, 
if you have thought, or tried to think, the thoughts 
the author exploits, the work will have a deeper 
meaning to you than to one who is a stranger to 
these things. The best books make us acquainted 
with our own, — they help us to find ourselves. No 
book calls forth the same responses from two differ- 
ent types of mind. The wind does not awaken 
seolian-harp tones from cornstalks. No man is a 
hero to his valet. It is the deep hollows and passes 
of the mountains that give back your voice in pro- 
longed reverberations. The tides are in the sea, not 



112 SUGGESTIVENESS 

in the lakes and ponds. Words of deep import do 
not mean much to a child. The world of books is 
under the same law as these things. What any 
given work yields us depends largely upon what we 
bring to it. 



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